Be wary of “plug and play” and other red flags.
Here in the brave new world of 2021, most industrial businesses have a fairly hearty digital infrastructure – meaning, you have lots of software tools that make it easier to get work done. In theory, at least. The downside is that too often these platforms don’t talk to each other all that well and that disconnect can actually create more tedious tasks, such as duplicate data entry, data reformatting and legacy system shenanigans.
Lacking a fluid exchange of information – or, a system integration – is wreaking more havoc than just the added time and hassle. A 2019 study showed that poor integration could be costing your business half a million dollars a year. Unfortunately, just knowing you need to integrate your software platforms doesn’t mean you know how to do it profitably. System integration work is, well, work. It takes time and know-how, so you should be cautious when a vendor tells you they have “plug and play” or “out of the box” integrations. Plus, there are other hurdles that can also blow up your integration costs and timelines. Take a look at this quick list of software integration challenges to anticipate before any work begins.
1. “Out of the box” integrations are basically a myth.
Here’s why: One application having a set integration with another (for example, your work order system integrating with Salesforce), doesn’t mean that the systems will automatically connect and perform the way you want them to. It simply means there are protocols in place to allow communication. What that communication looks like is inherently determined by your specific operational needs. Mapping data fields, configuring data, identifying specific data types that should or shouldn’t push from one system to another, and other specifics all take some level of customization or human intervention.
2. Your “like” data may not be as “like” as you think.
When you have teams that have been working in silos, you truly don’t know what kind of data everyone has. This doesn’t just apply to data formats, nomenclature and mapping. Yes, those are all issues (remember, software is incredibly literal and follows ultra-specific rules). But, we’re also talking about data quality. It’s a good idea to take some data cleansing and verification measures before any integration work begins. You’re not saving anyone time by giving them access to messy, outdated data.
3. You don’t know who owns what (or can’t agree.)
Speaking of access, giving every department access to all of your company’s data is not necessary and not advisable. This is a classic case of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Make sure you get everyone in one place to have some meaningful discussions about who needs to see what data and for what purpose. Too much data will slow teams down, and access to certain data (e.g., customer information) could cause unnecessary feather ruffling. Once these decisions are made, your integration partner can help put the required permissions in place.
4. System integration is not an IT task.
Your IT team is great, and this in no way is knocking the important work they do every day. But software system integration is often a larger, more complex job than your internal resources can tackle. Even in cases when your IT folks know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it, they usually don’t have the capacity to make the integration effort their full-time focus. For a smooth, timely integration, you may be better off looking outside your organization.
5. Technology is changing. Constantly.
Every technology solution will have some level of ongoing maintenance after your initial go-live date. If you – or, even harder to manage, a vendor your new single source of truth integrates with – has a routine update or substantial upgrade, will this affect your integration? Will it slow or postpone a regular data sync? Will it disrupt workflow? Also bear in mind that you will inevitably adopt additional software tools at some point in the future. Certain integration approaches, such as star integration, require big programming chops. Will your software integration plan scale as needed?
Remember, too, that merely connecting all integration points is sort of… missing the point. The end goal isn’t just about connecting platforms. It’s about creating an easier, more efficient digital infrastructure. Take time to discuss additional options that will naturally present themselves during the process. System integration is the perfect opportunity to re-see your current processes.
Have questions about how to get started? Our team is always happy to share our insights. Drop us a message any time!