Most businesses have systems that aren’t integrated and don’t ‘talk’, creating issues such as duplicated data. There are always new technologies and applications being developed to address the problems caused by this disconnect.
The word integration can describe the connection that allows access to individual resources or the process of moving information from one system to another.
The market for “Acronym Applications” has grown significantly in recent years. Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs) and Enterprise Resource Planning systems (ERPs) are major cogs within enterprises with a significant factor in common: they need to work together with other methods of tracking and communicating with customers.
ERP systems are integrated software systems that operate in real time, and act as a database to support a variety of integrated applications to manage and automate business procedures.
CRM systems act as a database where customer data from different channels (email, telephone, website, social media, purchase history, etc.) is stored for streamlined access and management.
What is system integration?
Due to the increasing complexity and range of these systems that were designed independently of each other, it’s important to bridge the gap and allow the systems to talk to each other to optimise business processes.
Creating a patchy system where two applications have dependencies on each other can diminish the value that each supplied separately.
Applications such as ERPs and CRMs have multiple points at which data can be entered and can be complicated systems for maintaining data relationships. The integration of two applications is a significant step in supporting business workflows.
Unfortunately, according to a Standish Group survey of 8,000 software projects found that the average project (such as technology integration) exceeded its planned budget by 90 percent and its schedule by 120 percent.
This statistic reveals that enterprises failed at effectively integrating data systems, we recognise that this was due to poor planning.
System Integration Planning
Enterprises that employ a strategic IT plan and implement it correctly have the greatest chance of success.
A system integration plan includes a review of current systems, process mapping followed by a detailed analysis, and selection of applications or technology that is best suited to optimise their workflows.
A review of current processes will reveal the path of data flow and ensure that any inefficient processes can be optimised during the integration process.
Process mapping will identify how your applications can integrate with each other, e.g. how they pass information or data to each other and where the corresponding data is input in the system.
This mapping is a highly important part of the planning process, as it will inform your decision on which tools to use to integrate your system. Tools can perform different tasks by various means, and it will take some consideration finding one that works well for your business.
The three most common integration sequences are;
- Data replication from one application to another.
- Data synchronisation to ensure that all copies of that information are consistent.
- Process integration used to trigger a business process that spans multiple applications.
Users within a business must be a part of this process. The largest reason that system integration fails is a lack of education about tools which then negatively affects the adoption rate by users. This lack of understanding may result in users circumventing the tool put in place and operating outside of your IT direction.
Once the right tools have been selected to connect the applications, the integration can begin. Managing technology integration requires a high level of error reporting and technical knowledge as new interactions between applications create new errors which must be attended.
System integration planning should include a discussion in regards to which functions of the integration can be outsourced to IT professionals. If the modification or combination of systems is a one-off, is it worth undertaking the education needed to do it or delegate that responsibility to an outsourced service?
Best Practices of system integration
Know your users
It’s important to understand the technology, but it’s even more imperative to know your users and how they will be able to use the integrated system and data. The most effective way to do this is by involving them in the planning stage of the integration.
Highlight the outcomes
Whether the final product of integrated applications will allow the sales team access to customer details for a deeper understanding of customer behaviour or, for smooth movement of figures from sales to accounts, the users should share the same vision of what the outcome of the integration will be.
Not every part of the system can be updated at once; it increases the chances of failure, frustration, and a lower adoption rate affecting the overall effectiveness of the integration. Break the integration down into smaller achievable pieces that pave the way for steady progress and maintenance in the long run.
Ask a professional
There are many one-time events to manage the integration process. It can be far more cost-effective to have them done for you by an IT professional, ideally involving them in the planning process for an overarching view of the business’ desired outcomes.
Benefits of technology integration
The most benefits can be obtained from integration when the enterprises’ whole system is tightly connected so that the users can gain a deeper understanding of their customers and hit higher levels of efficiency due to optimised processes.
The integration of applications should provide flexibility within the system across many points to give greater power to the end user, increasing their capacity and engagement with the software delivering an immediate business return.
Companies benefit from speedy process integration because activities are executed more efficiently across the users and systems. These actions increase profits and reduce risks with a business’s IT system.
Leap Consulting’s strategy and planning services around integration focus on driving real innovation to create value within your business.
We work to gain a thorough understanding of your present processes and your company’s longer term objectives to deliver an achievable plan of action that turns your technology around.