Franken-Systems: Friend or Foe?

What is a Franken-System?

A Franken-system is essentially making technologies work together when they weren’t designed to work together. The phrase is a play on Frankenstein’s monster because the legendary fictional character was pieced together in a lab and wasn’t super attractive.

Photograph of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein Does your tech stack resemble Dr. Frankenstein's monster?

Here is the real kicker...every company has a Franken-system. For example, any time you have to export data into a CSV file and then upload it into another platform, you are working in a Franken-system. That’s a very simple example but probably the most rampant use of connecting two technologies together.

Are Franken-systems a business monster or the early stages of innovation?

Business Monster

The main reason behind the cause of a Franken-system is the need to access and digest data. As a company grows and the business diversifies, the need to bring on technical solutions that help get the work done increases. However, one segment of the company may implement software that doesn’t work well with another department within the company. That’s an initial indicator someone needs to build a tech connection between two systems to ease the ask, wait, and delivery of information between two groups.

There are also Franken-systems within a department. Take preconstruction, for example. An estimator may use one software for takeoff, another software to build their estimate, another to solicit bids, and another to look at historical cost data. Their company may have built a Franken-system to connect all of the platforms through API calls so they can push and pull data from each.

Let’s throw a wrench in the process and one of those platforms updates their API. Someone has to go in and maintain the monster, so the systems continue to talk to each other. Another situation is an API update and it no longer works within the Franken-system the company has created and essentially breaks the monster process. How long can a construction company wait on their estimating software links to get reconnected? Here’s a hint: NOT LONG AT ALL.

The other scary part of the Franken-system is not being able to point to a single source of truth for data integrity. Using the example of an estimate, if a line item seems off, the estimator may have to go into each software to find the culprit. And that’s assuming the various systems are connected correctly. If one system is feeding another system data in the wrong spot, then backtracking and fixing that connection can be a major hurdle to overcome.

If this sounds like a lot of maintenance, it very well could be. Some companies have a dedicated staff member who manages the Franken-system. If that team member leaves, does the company have a plan in place to keep the monster maintained?

Early Stages of Innovation

It may seem simple to say “Franken-systems are a horrible idea...let’s get rid of them!” Then all the village people would get their pitchforks and run the monster out of town. But let’s look at Franken-systems through a different lens.

The reason for a Franken-system is to move data and digest it. Regardless of industry, the most valuable resource for businesses is data. The fact that a company wants to have greater clarity and get more granular with their data is great for business. The more businesses use their own data to make insightful decisions, the better our industries will be.

When technology systems can “talk” to one another it opens up opportunities to automate. Businesses can automate manual and mundane tasks so their professionals can spend time on high-value activities like digesting the business data. As more technology moves to the web, it is easier for companies to tap into API calls and today’s connectivity solutions don’t require a ton of (or any) code writing.

Where companies fall into a Franken-system nightmare is if their processes are inefficient. If you have inefficient workflows, then your Franken-system is going to continue to work around the inefficiencies. So, the root of the problem isn’t the system that has been pieced together but the lack of business leadership and strategy to ask “Is this the best solution for our business today and tomorrow?”

The reality is that there is not one system that can do it all for every business. There is no ideal technology solution that works for a finance technology company and a national retailer that will handle accounting, payroll, inventory, databases, project management, etc. The beautiful aspect of Franken-systems is that companies can use the technology platforms that work for their unique and efficient workflows and be able to access their valuable business data at their fingertips. Franken-systems are easier to build than can create a monster or go down the path of innovation.

Friend or Foe?

How do you know if a Franken-system is the monster or a friend of innovation? This is pretty easy to answer: Keep the big picture in mind! If you know the vision, mission, and goals of the business then build a system around it that allows the company to achieve them. The second your technology doesn’t align with the big picture, then it is time to reassess what is needed.

So Franken-systems are not inherently bad or good. They should be viewed through what their intentions are for the future of the business. Is the system meant to keep the company charging towards the big picture? Or is the system in place because the technology in use is what has always been used and to look at what else is out there in the marketplace takes too much time? Again, company leaders will need to view the workflows of the company and decide if how the business functions today is ideal for the vision, mission, and goals of the business.

You’ll have to decide whether your business technologies and how they interact together is a friend or foe. Squash the monsters and elevate the innovations. Just make sure you are always keeping the big picture in mind through it all.


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