Navigating System Choices for Growing Businesses: Is Your Company Ready for a Business Operating System?

Many of my clients come to me with frustrations about their systems and software.

They want better numbers and more accurate tracking.

“I’m getting these reports and numbers, but they don’t seem right.”

They want their systems to talk to each other.

“We sell wholesale through our account reps and retail through our website – but we draw our inventory from the same warehouse. Unless the systems talk to each other, it’s too easy to oversell the same items multiple times.”

They want additional automation or better processes.

“We’re currently having to enter the same information into multiple systems. Not only is this time consuming and inefficient in terms of process, but it also leads to inaccurate reporting when entries are missed.”

These types of problems are signals that your business is ready for next level systems.

Most businesses start out with one or a few single-purpose programs that don’t talk to each other.

They might run Quickbooks for bookkeeping. Mailchimp for newsletters. Shopify for ecommerce. Or all three.

Or they have one program that they push to its limits by supplementing missing functionality with a collection of spreadsheets and manual processes.

More technically savvy businesses may set up a complex web of “middle-ware” like Zapier or Make to try to link things together.

Eventually, the business grows to a point where the system begins to break down and cause problems.

The wish of most of these business leaders is to centre things around one system.

The magic system they are looking for is something we call a Business Operating System (BOS).

What is a Business Operating System?

A BOS can handle all the different aspects of your business.

The most important thing about a BOS is that instead of centering your system on one specific piece of software, it uses a central database hub.

Each piece of software in your system uses and updates the same database – creating a common source of “truth” where all your business information is stored and easily referenced and shared between applications.

When this is in place, all of your systems can “talk to each other” – eliminating the need to update information in multiple places or copy things from one application to another.

Choosing the right Business Operating System for your business

There are 3 basic choices when it comes to Business Operating Systems.

  1. Fully customized software
  2. Out-of-the-box industry specific software
  3. Integrated suites

1. Fully Customized Software

Custom software is built to spec, catering to every aspect of your business. It’s highly adaptable – it can evolve with your company, with features added as necessary.

It also comes with considerable downsides:

  • Cost-Prohibitive: The expense for custom software is steep—not just in development but also for ongoing maintenance.
  • Long Development Time: It can take many months, if not years, to go from concept to launch.
  • Resource Intensive: Custom software requires a dedicated team for its management, which can strain resources.

One of the philosophies that we believe in at Growth Strategy is that the business you’re in is really only 20% of your business. The other 80% is what every business has: bookkeeping, accounting, finance, HR, etc.

This is good news because it means that most of your business can be run by off-the-shelf systems.

The only time you would need fully customized software is if your business needs cannot be met by any existing solutions, which is extremely rare.

2. Out-of-the-Box Industry-Specific Software

These are “complete” packages built for specific industries. For example, BuilderTrend for home builders or Jane for physiotherapists.

The biggest appeal for these is that they can be deployed quickly due to their pre-built nature. You can get from zero to something pretty good, quickly.

The cost structure on these is usually simple. There’s a flat rate, making budgeting straightforward.

Industry specific solutions are often a good choice for newer, smaller businesses that are looking for a temporary solution.

But as your business matures, you may discover that the system isn’t robust enough for your growing needs.

Many industry-specific systems don’t offer API access. (You can think of an API as a “USB cable for software” that allows one program to plug in and communicate with another.)

This means they “don’t play well with others” – making it impossible to add additional functionality that the system doesn’t already have.

3. Customized Integrated Suite

Integrated suites offer a wide range of customizable modules that can be tailored to fit various business processes, providing an integrated ecosystem for all business functions.

Historically, these systems (eg: SAP) were very expensive and only available to large enterprises. Advances in technology have made these powerful systems more economical. There are now many great, affordable options available for smaller businesses – like Zoho and Odoo.

Integrated suites can be very cost-efficient. With a subscription-based model, they avoid the significant upfront costs associated with custom software. Best of all, the software is maintained, improved, and supported by the vendor – which reduces ongoing costs.

Because the modules are customizable, they can be tailored to fit your business needs and processes. This gives you the benefits of custom software at a fraction of the cost.

Most integrated suites offer APIs that allow them to connect and communicate with other software packages, making it possible to add functionality that isn’t already available in the suite. (Or to keep using a preferred app rather than switching to something new.)

The modular design also makes it possible to take a phased approach to change – slowly adding modules and training people as time and resources allow – minimizing disruption to your business.

They are also designed to grow with your business – the right suite can accommodate increasing complexity with ease.

For expanding businesses that feel like they’ve out-grown their software or systems, integrated suites typically emerge as the best choice.

They bypass both the prohibitive costs and timelines of fully customized software and the rigidity of out-of-the-box solutions.

For companies on the rise, they offer the sweet spot of adaptability, cost-effectiveness, and scalability, providing a solid foundation for growth.


Jean-Eric Plamondon

Founder and Systems Strategist at Growth Strategies.

Serial entrepreneur with direct experience launching, growing, & selling a number of businesses including scaling a scrap metal business from $0 to $5 Million in 6 months.

Certified Management Consultant and Value Builder Advisor. Author of the Boring Business Manifesto.


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