While he was still alive Steve Jobs (Apple) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) were asked in a joint interview what character traits they admired most about each other. Steve Job’s answer was that he admired Bill Gate’s ability to partner with other companies.
The reason he said this was because his vision for Apple had always been to control as much of the end user’s experience as possible. However, he learned that you cannot do absolutely everything and that certain partnerships were necessary and would result in a better product and also a better experience for their users.
Bill Gates, from early on in his Microsoft career, had employed a much more open policy allowing Microsoft products to run on other companies hardware and as a result led to distribution of Microsoft products through many more channels with other 3rd party development companies being able to develop their own products to run on Microsoft Windows, which further strengthened Microsoft’s position in the market place.
The difference between these two philosophies is in the user experience. If you ask any Apple user today they will openly boast to you about the smooth performance they experience with their Apple Macs compared to the PC running Windows. The Windows users on the other hand will boast about all the freedom they have with their computer and how they can tweak it and modify it according to their needs. This same analogy can be made with Iphones and Android phones today, with the Iphone having a more controlled experience and the Android phone being more open to manipulation. One will boast a superior experience while the other boasts more freedom to do what you want.
The question is then, in terms of your salon management software, how much of the experience should be provided by one company and when do you partner with other software products and providers.
In my opinion seamless integration of salon business processes is critical in improving salon competitiveness. What this equates to in salon management software terms is having one system that can handle as many of your business processes as possible.
Seamless integration will save time because you get rid of duplicating entries into multiple systems and also eradicate manual intervention between systems. It will also improve results because the data is all in one place and can be accessed and harnessed with more power and control.
Seamless integration will also reduce mistakes because the data will be “handled” less by humans in its journey through your system.
The problem with lack of integration
I have observed on many occasions salons using distributed systems for the wrong reasons. For example, some try and use Outlook for their appointments and sending their company bulk emails. Some use their cell phones to bulk SMS their clients. Some use a generic Point of Sale system or an Accounting System for their invoicing. Some use Excel to store their Client Database and manage Stock Control. In some cases I have also seen third party systems used for loyalty and gift voucher processing. My ultimate heart breaker is seeing salons running a loyalty system with a card that you either stamp or put stickers onto.
The problem is not that any of the above are necessarily bad systems in and of themselves, its just that they are all separate from each other and this is limiting. These distributed systems are also very often not designed for the purposes that salon owners try and use them for.
The benefits of seamless integration
Using some of the above examples it is very easy to indicate why seamless integration is preferred. For instance, bulk emailing a database of thousands of clients is just not going to work from a desktop mail program like Outlook, it’s not designed for that.
The core business processes for salons include things like Bookings, Sales, Cash Ups, Reporting, Stock Control, Commissions/Salaries, Bulk Electronic Communication, Gift Vouchers, Loyalty and other smaller transactions like Petty Cash, Staff Purchases, Staff Loans etc.
As a minimum standard the abovementioned business processes should be taken care of by one integrated system as far as possible.
What about 3rd party partnerships?
There are times of-course when you need to partner with other companies who specialise in functionality that is not core to salons but does overlap. One example would be bulk SMS sending as it is ultimately the cell phone companies (Telco’s) that deliver the SMS messages to recipients.
3rd party companies called Wireless Application Service Providers (WASP’s) manage the process of getting the bulk messages to the Telco’s for delivery to the handsets. Therefore integration with a reputable WASP is important as well so that the process of sending a bulk SMS is as seamless as possible in order to make it fast, easy and reliable.
Other 3rd party partnerships could be to accounting systems or even as simple as to products like Excel, which is more of an unofficial partnership. Whatever the case the process needs to be as seamless as possible.
One Data Set to rule them all!
The ultimate benefit to the integration of your internal systems is the power of a single data set. Having one consolidated data set will mean that you will get so much more out of it. The more you distribute your data the less valuable it will become with each degree of distribution. For example if you have one database for your sales transactions and another unrelated database for your client information then you will not be able to combine the two to get powerful reports and fine-tuned targeted SMS and Email communication.
For example, with an integrated data set you would be able to pull reports like what your average spend is for Male vs Female clients. You could target clients that have bought specific items in a specific date range. Integration with your bookings, sales and staff data could even allow you to forecast what you have booked and how busy your staff will be in the near future.
Another example would be your salon tracking sheets, which combine things like sales categories, new and regular clients, average spends, staff turnovers etc.
The list of possibilities goes on the more integrated your data set.
When computerising your salon focus on a system that is as integrated as possible. The core business processes should be covered by this system. If you require functionality that only a 3rd party system can provide then ensure that there is seamless integration between your salon management system and the 3rd party system. This usually requires a good relationship between your salon management software provider and the 3rd party.
Be careful when entering into partnerships with 3rd parties as I have seen owners waste hundreds of thousands of Rands on things like loyalty schemes with specialised loyalty companies that just never take off because of a lack of integration with their internal management software and in all cases they were able to get what they wanted out of their internal system anyway.