Sync-ing contacts stops your business sinking

16 October 2018 | 975 Shares

When strange devices called computers began appearing in offices across the world in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s they were, on the whole, regarded with some suspicion. “What do they actually do?” people asked.

When the first spreadsheets and mail-merged documents began to appear, gradually people began to accept the role technology was starting to play in the workplace.

Skip forward in time to the present day, and technology not only dominates the working environment but also plays a huge role in everyone’s lives. Technology is now so intrinsically linked with our day-to-day realities, we barely notice it. For the very young, of course, technology’s presence is as usual as the trees growing out of the ground, and the sky being blue.

The desktop computer, the laptop, the tablet and most significantly, the mobile phone now play a central role in nearly everything we do. (The modern “phone” is perhaps misnamed – “portable highly powerful connected computing node” would be more accurate, but perhaps somewhat less snappy…)

On all the devices we use, and the different apps on them, we hold a great deal of customer data. In our personal lives, we keep contact details for friends and family of course. But often on the same device, there’ll be business contacts, complete with profile pictures, social media details, landline and mobile numbers, email addresses, and so forth.

In the workplace, any single department will hold similar databases of, for instance, customers, potential customers, clients, staff, suppliers, business partners, resellers, freelancers – the list is long.

The overall effect of this is the emergence of what’s become known as data silos. These discrete packets of data exist in multiple places, ranging from individual staff members’ mobiles to massive software instances which run a business: ERPs (enterprise resource planning systems), CRMs in sales departments, marketing databases, and so forth.

While some compartmentalization is to be valued (separating business and personal contacts, for example), in the main, the silos of data cost businesses time and money.

In any organization (and often within a single department), the same people and companies appear in two or more systems; the twist in the tail is that often the contact details for person X will be slightly different in two or more systems!

On a practical basis, we spend a great deal of time copying and pasting details from one system to another – from a potential client or lead database into a CRM, for example, or from an HR department’s database (via .csv) into payroll.

Source: Piesync

Not only does this manual or semi-automated updating process take time, but it also allows human error to creep into the mix – a mistyped surname, a rogue capitalization, even a trailing space – these create differences which computers can’t differentiate.

From the business’s point of view, there’s often no 360-degree view of a customer or potential lead. The data exists which shows the whole picture, but it exists in several places which are never brought together.

There’s now, therefore, a vibrant market for software solutions which are designed to bring the various data silos together into one place. There’s also another alternative: synchronization solutions.

The latter is considered more practical, on the whole. By synchronizing data, organizations can continue to use the different software systems in which they’ve invested (and staff are familiar with), but be sure that the data they use is up to date and drawn from every repository.

Data from a sales rep’s scanned (to the cloud) business card can flow into the company’s sales lead database (in-house), and/or into the list of contacts (on a private cloud) that marketing use to reach out to offer new products or deals. If or when the lead becomes a customer, those details can be synchronized with the workflow management software (perhaps in a public SaaS), the finance department’s list of customers, the logistics’ function’s delivery rota, and so on.

Here at TechHQ, we’re considering three suppliers of synchronization software that work across just about every common business software system – from bare-metal, in-house deployments, to cloud-based services. The solutions below ensure that your data appears either automatically or via a trigger (such as a new CRM entry being created) in every relevant system.

These solutions remove the maddening need to copy and paste between different systems, or even undergo the bane of the intern’s/office junior’s life, the print-out of data from one system to type it into another.

It’s the removal of error, repetition and the mundane that saves businesses time and resources. Plus, with all data entirely up to date, organizations can get a better, all-round picture; not only of their customers, but also their suppliers, their staff and business partners.

Here are three we consider to be worth your appraisal:

PIESYNC

The Belgian company offers what it terms intelligent synchronization, which effectively removes duplicate data (remember those trailing spaces on the same contact record creating two entries? They’re a thing of the past!). The sync-ing routines run in the background, moving data two ways (or one-way only, if desired) between software instances.

The company’s list of supported apps is impressive, plus there are new integrations brought online all the time. If you have a favorite, the company’s system doesn’t operate with, you can request/vote for its inclusion. But, looking at the list you’d probably be using something quite esoteric to be disappointed.

PieSync focuses on sync-ing with those apps that have the potential to become discrete data silos – typically, any application or tool that is based on a database of some type.

While some synchronization solutions are trigger-based (see below), the synchronization routines run constantly, moving data down and up pre-defined pathways: from in-house to mobile, cloud-based data repositories, and back, for example.

Pricing is monthly (PieSync is a cloud-based SaaS provision) and based on the total number of contacts you need to keep up to date everywhere. There’s no limit to the number of apps you can use, nor the number of synchronizations which take place. As your contact numbers grow, merely pay a little more. Alternatively, trim back your list of contacts (remove people who’ve moved on or fallen by the wayside) and end up paying less!

To read more about PieSync, click here

ZAPIER

In the Zapier world, data syncs are known as “Zaps,” comprising a trigger, followed by an action: if a new email arrives in a Gmail account, then send an SMS, for example. This is known by Zapier as a “task.” So far, so much an IFTTT deployment (see below), albeit one with 1000+ app instances drawn from a range of common models.

Zapier seems, therefore, to present as an IFTTT variant (if-this-then-that) taken up several notches: but despite its ease of use for even novices, its true power is waiting for its users gain experience.

Paid plans start at $20 per user, per month; these allow integration to “premium” apps, which include Salesforce and most SQL variations. Paid-for plans also enable multi-step “Zaps”, thus, IFTTT and T and T and T, too.

Users can also replay functions, so if a zap fails (caused when an API is momentarily down, for example), then it re-runs until it succeeds.

Zapier’s approach is very much user-led, and we envisage users starting to automate everyday tasks, and then cross-selling plans to their wider contacts, teams, and departments.

For larger deployments, there’s Zapier for Teams, which allows sharing and collaboration on Zaps, but without having to pool individuals’ logins. There’s a free trial available to test, too.

WORKATO

With Workato, users can choose from two broad ranges of pre-built “set menus” if required, designed for IT professionals (conversant with the concepts of APIs and database terminology), or for business professionals (who know their SAP inside out).

On Workato’s website you can set up a simple automation as a form of working trial for the workflow management & integration platform – this goes beyond contacts synchronization.

Integration among the more common apps is easy, with the building of workflows a simple process. Users select which app begins the process, then plot a way through the next steps.

As an example: If a WordPress site publishes a new post, the automation to post to three social media channels (for the sake of argument, let’s say LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook), is there, using fields pre-filled from SQL.

Workato’s offering covers all areas of the modern business, with literally thousands of uses, across finance, IT, HR, operations (such as IoT control), sales and helpdesk.

The back end of the Workato system includes machine-learning insights too, with claims of the ability to judge customer sentiment from social posts, for example, that trigger pre-built escalation protocols.

*Some of the companies featured are commercial partners of TechHQ