Here’s how to get all of your software systems talking.
Remember way back in 2009 when the iPhone was just a baby and Apple released its now-famous “There’s an app for that” campaign? Apps! For anything! It was mesmerizing. Flashforward 12 years, and the B2B world can say essentially the same thing for all of its many challenges. Customer relations? Maintenance management? Lab testing? Financial processes? Yep, there’s a software solution for that.
From robust business intelligence platforms to simple work order systems, there’s a SaaS product for just about everything, which is awesome. The trouble is that not all of these software systems are set up to talk to each other. This can result in siloed information, inconsistent reports, duplicate data, lags in workflow and increased operational costs. Oh, and tons of frustration.
All in favor of system integration, holler aye!
Bottom line, it’s in your best interest to integrate your different software systems. While more and more companies are leveraging new software, more than 80 percent report that they’ve had digital projects fail… with nearly 30 percent placing the blame on legacy systems not wanting to play nice. Complicating matters, a lot of software providers advertise “plug and play” integrations. However, in reality, most will need some custom adjustments to fit your precise application.
Considering that up to 70 percent of IT budgets go to system integrations, you’ll want a solid plan in place before you dive in. Here’s a quick overview of what’s possible and how to approach it.
The basics of system integration.
In simplest terms, system integration means connecting your different software sub-systems so that they can work together like one unified system. This allows you to designate a single source of truth (that you can actually trust) for all of the data you collect and analyze, not to mention helps speed up workflows. In addition to linking your internal systems, you may also want to consider integrating with third-party systems. For example, if you send fluid samples to a testing lab, you may need to integrate with their LIMS system so you can have access to real-time test data. Some different types of system integration include:
Vertical – Connects systems based on single functionalities, can be rigid and difficult to update but a great option for simple integrations.
Horizontal – Links systems with an enterprise service bus (ESB), or one shared layer that all sub-systems interface with directly.
Star – Integrates each sub-system with each other sub-system with direct connection points, allows for high functionality but also requires some high-maintenance programming.
Common data format – Uses a common data format type so that all sub-systems only need to convert data formats one time to communicate.
5 Steps to a smooth software integration
Overall, there is no “right” or “wrong” system integration method. It’s more a question of what systems you have, what do you need them to do, and what IT resources you have available. Take a look at this high-level framework for making sure you get the most out of your system integration.
1. Know your systems, know your data.
It may sound like a no-brainer, but getting a crystal clear idea of everything you currently have (or plan to add with the integration) is critical. Review your current technology and business processes. List all your software systems, the types of data they house, how (and how often) you use them. What types of data formats are you working with? Do customers need to interact directly with any of this data? Document all of this before you begin proper planning.
2. Talk to everyone who uses anything.
Get input from everyone who uses the systems, including staff members who may not be able to envision a future state of a new system but can really accurately describe the specific part of the business process they perform. Whole operational areas can be missed on legacy systems if the decision-makers are unaware of unique or customized functionality other areas of the business require.
3. Set clear expectations, goals and success metrics.
What’s the main reason you want to integrate your systems? Do you have tons of duplicate data? Do you lose a lot of labor hours to maintaining your systems? Are you trying to save money? How much? If you work with an integration partner, being direct about what you hope to accomplish will help them better plan the approach – and help you mutually define what success will look like. Similarly, don’t be afraid to come to the table with a firm budget in mind. This can save time and hassle in the long run.
4. Be flexible and open to new possibilities.
System integration is inherently the type of project where your integration partner or IT team won’t know exactly what they’re looking at until they are in it. Think of it like an exploratory surgery. Keep an eye out for things not shaping up as planned and make decisions early to accommodate. But, keep in mind, there’s a positive spin here, too. Look for additional opportunities to improve systems or integrations while you’re at it (if time allows, of course.)
5. Assess and learn.
Any time you introduce new technology, change your workflow, work with a vendor, etc., it’s a good idea to debrief. What went well? What didn’t? What was the ROI and how do you feel about it? There’s a wide, wide range of software solutions out there – and many more to come – and this will not be your only time integrating systems. At some point, your lessons learned will serve you well.
System integration can be a complex process, but if you do your homework and break it down into focused steps, you’ll be on the right path. Of course, we’re always happy to answer any specific system integration questions you may have.