Integrating data sources—software, services, databases—boost productivity across teams who already struggle to collaborate in an increasingly complex environment. Whether it is approaching data problems with a mind for providing better access to teams, integrating key data sources, or focusing on improving the software that teams are comfortable with already, companies are finding success through solutions that bring their data closer to the teams and entities that need access to it every day.
By Misty Cain, Robby Boney and Bill Erickson
Both recent and long-time changes are increasing pressure on waste companies from all directions. While technology has largely kept pace with these increasing pressures, it also ushers increased complexity, making data access and collaboration at once a higher priority and a more difficult challenge. Successful waste companies meet these challenges with comprehensive data management strategies that build an ecosystem founded on automation and data access—breaking down silos to get data into the hands of the people who use it every day.
Companies quickly learn that more applications harvesting more data means more silos—more independent business units whose software does not communicate well with other business units, does not produce data in a usable format, is too difficult for users to learn or often all of these problems combined. A strategic approach to these challenges must emphasize integration between all key sources and the teams and tools that routinely access them.
Reporting to municipal governments is a major challenge in the modern waste industry in no small part because the data points required to do so almost always come from different applications. For example, winning a city contract might require presenting reports that incorporate scaling and routing data alongside one another, but the scaling software collects and exports data in a different format than the route management application. So, teams do massive amounts of manual data work to create overly large and complicated reports that are prone to the same mistakes and inefficiencies plaguing all human data entry.
Solving this problem relies on building or finding layers of communication between different applications, and between applications and users. Whether that is a website using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to pull stats from various applications for exportable PDF reports, or an on-premise plugin that fits between reporting software, like Excel, and source data all depends on the company and its resources.
Companies without access to data engineers should focus on finding platforms that meet business needs while also dealing with increasing complexity as data sources continue growing in number throughout the company. Your all-in-one waste management software are extremely valuable tools, though they still prove shy of a true end-to-end solution, given that there is almost always manual work to fill feature gaps. Companies with dedicated IT resources can put energy into automating the extract, transform and load (ETL) process of getting data into reporting endpoints like Excel. Business and IT teams together should focus on creating an ecosystem—whether they use APIs, robotic process automation or another method—that creates lines of communication between data sources and endpoints.
However, while modern data integration software and strategy can play a key role in breaking down silos, even the most seemingly perfect systems cannot account for the human aspects involved in creating off-grid data sources. Many silos originate from a lack of willingness or ability—or time—to adopt and leverage a process or tool while staying productive. So, in the effort to build an integration strategy, team collaboration should be among the top priorities alongside integration when exploring data solutions.
The growing influence of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and local governments also increases the number of users requiring access to the same or similar data. This means sharing not only across users and regions within the company, but also sharing outside of the organization as well. Streamlining data access thus becomes a critical part of increasing both productivity and
compliance. Doing so effectively is a challenge that can make or break a waste company.
The most successful companies recognize that software adoption is one of the biggest roadblocks to providing effective data access—something that is especially true where the technology landscape is a patchwork of seemingly incongruous apps sourcing different data that all needs to be consolidated at some point. In these environments especially, the importance of leveraging commonplace software cannot be understated.
Microsoft Excel is a classic example: While many waste-specific applications collect data (e.g., routing or scaling apps), and most export reports in some form, many do not work well with Excel, even though it is a must for user adoption and the prevention of rogue spreadsheets. A strong focus on maintaining parity or connectivity with the most-used apps, like Excel, brings those rogue applications back into the entire ecosystem and governs them, improving user adoption and productivity.
That same focus increases efficiency when sharing data outside the company to municipal entities like city or county governments. Analysts in those institutions require access to waste companies’ data, but they certainly cannot have access to waste companies’ apps and would not likely understand them if they did. They are, however, familiar with the tools ubiquitously used for data analysis and reporting (again, like Excel).
If there has been a focus from the bottom up on incorporating these well-known tools into the software landscape, then the whole reporting process is much leaner, faster, more transparent and, ultimately, more successful—across teams, regions and even entirely separate institutions.
New tools nearly always require more learning, which distracts teams from valuable work. The trick is using familiar tools that everyone knows, but using them in novel ways that address their most
critical problems. In the case of Excel, that is connectivity. Spreadsheets are not connected seamlessly to your data. But what if they were?
Spreadsheets and the Single Source of Truth
Single source of truth is a phrase virtually anyone involved with data in any capacity is or ought to be aware of. Often, it is used to describe the ideal, rather than the actual state of things. As software multiplies, acquisitions are closed, and regions are opened, it becomes increasingly difficult to pin a single, consistent place to find the truth. Instead, the source of truth looks a lot more like a diffuse network of applications and spreadsheets that all have different access points, protocols and update schedules. Finding consistent, timely, accurate truth in this landscape is a bit like holding water with your fingertips.
Extracting data manually from its sources and saving it off as a static spreadsheet file (a report) effectively creates an entirely new database, a new and different source of truth. And, it is the common mode of reporting in many companies, as well as one of the biggest problems they need to solve. If, instead of this static reporting method, each report is just a window into whatever sources it needs to see, then the contents of the source remain intact and not duplicated across the company. In a very real sense, the data sources become integrated by their connections to the endpoint reporting tool.
From the ground up, a successful data integration and management strategy must have its ambitions set on consolidation. And among the most efficient ways to accomplish data consolidation is through
reporting. Imagine an Excel report that pulls dynamically from an ERP, a scaling application, and a sorting application all at once. It is not a static file and does not have to be saved. It is an interface to the specific stats being held in each of the other applications, and it presents the data in whatever format is required. This imaginary spreadsheet completely mitigates the need to traverse several different apps and collate the data manually, because the report itself is connected to several different sources already. The report can be exported for distribution, but it does not need to be saved. It is a tool, not a file.
The idea of a “connected” spreadsheet is one of the defining principles supporting a successful data integration strategy. It helps drive successful, streamlined reporting for waste companies and
empowers them to not just cope with, but become leaders in ESG,
innovating in the face of the challenges it presents.
This point bears repeating: One of the best tricks to successful data integration is looking at the tools your team already uses and asking not how you can replace them, but how you can make them work better within your process. In the case of reporting tools like Excel, everyone is using them anyway, so getting them connected to source data is the obvious way to bring them back into governance.
The Modern Data Landscape of Waste Collections
Contemporary operations, compliance and reporting requirements have dramatically changed how waste companies must operate across nearly every aspect of business. City budgets demand more efficiency and transparency than ever. ESG reporting has become a top priority. Services and software continue to proliferate in every business domain. At the intersection of all these challenges is the mandate for drastically improved data integration and analysis—a data management strategy. However, in a world of seemingly incompatible technologies, collecting and reporting on accurate, on-time data remains one of the biggest difficulties waste companies confront.
Almost universally, the rising importance of ESG already highlights the trouble. Statistics stream in from scaling, sorting and routing technologies—all destined for usable, distributable reports requiring ever-accelerating levels of governance. Without a data management and integration strategy, the amount of manual work and opportunity for error is simply too big not to address.
Data integration is the theme that undergirds every successful effort to streamline and automate. Companies that prioritize access and technologies to increase adoption will gain over the competition, decreasing effort and errors and helping teams work with their counterparts in government.
Integrating data sources—software, services, databases—will boost productivity across teams who already struggle to collaborate in an increasingly complex environment. Whether it is approaching data problems with a mind for providing better access to teams, integrating key data sources, or focusing on improving the software that teams are comfortable with already, companies who find success are finding it through solutions that bring their data closer to the teams and entities that need access to it every day. | WA
Misty Cain, PMP, is Director of Project Management at Interject. She is a veteran member of Interject’s leadership team with deep accounting experience in the waste industry and a keen business understanding that complements their technology solutions. Misty can be reached at [email protected].
Robby Boney is Director of Business Development at Interject. He has a broad background in research as well as computer science. Robby’s entrepreneurial mindset contributes to scalable solutions for Interject’s clients, along with the company’s focus on growth. Robby can be reached at [email protected].
Bill Erickson is Communications Manager at Interject. With a background in technical writing and digital communications, Bill helps guide Interject’s growth strategies and facilitates clearer and more effective client communications, branding and outreach. Bill can be reached at [email protected].
Interject is a reporting, data management and automation company that helps organizations build efficient, scalable data and reporting solutions. Interject was founded in the waste industry and continues to support comprehensive accounting and data solutions for leading waste companies across North America. For more information, visit www.gointerject.com.