System integration – concept independence

I’ve recently been advising the digital division of a telecommunications company on part of their payment system infrastructure. At the same time my startup business is deep in the throes of building a new platform to complement our existing business.

In both cases part of the challenge is how to integrate a new system into an existing business platform. Initially the logical best outcome seemed to be a single entity vastly improved by the addition of the new systems and technology. Surely a new step forward for the established brand/business.

In addressing these two separate issues my previous line of thought has been looking at each separate part of the system and working to see how best to leverage their differences into each other to create a better business. What this is attempting to do is 1+1 = 3. Looking at the first 1 in the equation, and then the second 1 in the equation and seeing what are the bits of each of these 1’s that add together to get 3. Great when it works!

However, what I’ve realized is that the piece of the equation that’s worth concentrating on is neither the 1’s nor the 3, it’s the +.

It can often be about how you connect two great concepts that gives them their power, rather than trying to subsume one into the other to create a bigger single unit. Essentially this is about letting great ideas, or working parts of a business, stand-alone and continue to do what they do best unimpeded. While at the same time finding clever connections that feed the power of each idea separately.

Your overall business does not need to be greater than the sum of its parts. Just enable the parts to have a connection that makes each part stronger. Perhaps a clearer way to describe it is that 1 + 1 equals neither 2 nor 3. 1+1 becomes 2+2. If the way they are connected is clever enough you need never sum the parts but simply keep growing the equation, 3+3, 4+4 etc. It’s the way you build the + that makes the difference.

This is not a new way of thinking (except maybe for me in this case) as most modern software technology employs API’s (application programming interface) to allow them to connect with other pieces of software without compromising the reason the original software of each was built in the first place. API’s create a connection for two good software ideas that enable them both to be stronger, without compromising either or tying them together and making both unwieldy.

Similarly, companies like Wesfarmers and Seven West Media combine seemingly incompatible businesses like retail and mining, and media and mining respectively, under a single business umbrella and share price. They do this successfully by empowering each individual business part to do what it does best, but connecting them at the top with strong management that focuses on what drives the combined share price.

At the telco the trick is firstly about finding the right parts to connect, and then the connection that makes them both stronger will become more apparent.

Over at my startup our short-term goal is to have the 2 great parts of our business working well. And while our medium term goal used to be a seamless merged entity, it’s now about the powerful connection that will feed both parts separately. We actually worked out the other day what that connection would look like, and it’s exciting!

If we think more about the way we connect the parts rather than how we make things stronger as a unit, maybe we’ll end up with a better overall result.

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