As companies grow, their software needs grow with them. Although at the start it is more cost-effective to buy the off-the-shelf software products you need at the time, as your business evolves, you find you are buying more and more software solutions. For example, you might select one software for your accounting and then later another software for your inventory. Time passes and you need software to manage your sales and marketing followed by a nifty customer service ticketing system. The good news is that your business is growing. The bad news is that your business has outgrown your software.
Because each individual software solution functions separately, your employees find themselves jumping from one product to the next often wasting valuable time entering the same, or related, data into different systems. What was cheaper at the start of your business now costs you both the time your employees spend fighting with your software and the money you spend maintaining so many systems. You need to consider how a custom systems integration project can build exactly what your business needs to grow and thrive.
What is systems integration?
Systems integration links together different systems and applications to act as one coordinated system. Application integration involves combining data from various applications into a cohesive central hub for your users. It is a complicated process that needs a sophisticated understanding of business and deep knowledge in various technologies. Systems integration enables enterprise resource planning which will help you lead your business providing more effective data for your decision making.
Your software has become a maze of inefficient processes and employee designed workarounds. If your employees need to enter the same information into different systems, you are wasting valuable time that could be used to better help your customers. By building an interface that integrates the systems your business already uses, you can automate processes, improve information flow, and optimize the use of your data.
5 Benefits of Systems Integration
For your business, you want fluid operations connected by integrated workflows allowing you to make highly informed decisions quickly and confidently to service your customers. Let’s take a closer look at the five benefits of custom systems integration.
1. Better Data-Driven Decisions
When you have all of your data in one centralized location, you can spend your time analyzing it and making high-level decisions instead of using most of your time to collect and synthesize the data into a usable form. As part of a systems integration project, you can create one dashboard with the insights, statistics, and data you need to make comparisons and identify trends.
2. Ease and Efficiency for Employees
Instead of working in multiple software systems entering duplicate data, your employees will be able to work from one unified system while accessing multiple tools. Integration allows your team to spend time on high-value tasks instead of simple ones like data extraction. The chance for human error in exporting, importing, and replicating data is drastically reduced through integration providing you with more accurate information to run your business.
3. Improved System Security
Securing multiple systems or relying on software solutions providers to secure their systems adequately for your needs introduces additional risk to your business. Part of the process of your systems integration project should be to analyze and address security for your business. An integrated system can have the security tools needed to control user access keeping your data safe and secure.
4. Real-Time Data
If your data is kept in various systems requiring time to collate, your data review will never be as quick as you may need. If you have large amounts of data or a large number of individual systems, your problem will be a large one. With systems integration, your data can be transferred to your central system in real-time. After integration, this will help your team to be better informed on all aspects of your business and will process the needed data to make faster and smarter decisions.
5. Accelerated Company Growth
As time spent on low-value tasks decreases and access to high-quality data increases, your team will be able to focus on high-value business growth efforts. Your employees and your customers will benefit from ease of use from the integration and your leadership can concentrate on generating revenue and crafting new services for your customers.
5 Steps to Systems Integration
There are several crucial steps to successful systems integration that you will need to complete in order to build your new custom solution. You will want to follow this process no matter what size of an integration you are tackling.
In the systems analysis step at the start of the integration process, your team will answer a series of questions like what software solutions do you use, how do you use it, what functionality is missing, what is unneeded, what processes are painful, what frustrates your users and what delights your users. Creating a custom systems integration solution for your business requires learning about your business’ specific needs and the concerns related to those needs. This includes an examination of all the software applications you currently use.
Why choose an expert for this analysis?
After all, you know what you need, right? While you are an expert in your business, your software systems integration partner will be an expert in computer systems. Using knowledge gained from working on hundreds of integrations, your custom software integration company can suggest which applications can be easily replaced by newly written code and which should be replaced by different systems. Their goal is the same as yours—a smoothly integrated system. Together, you will design one strong systems integration that will provide an immediate return on investment.
Before a systems integration can begin, an architect will create a detailed model articulating how all the components will be connected as a unified system. This visual representation of the entire system provides the integration blueprint for the coding and articulates efficient data connectivity between all the solutions. This integration data model demonstrates the flow of data needed to design how the different users will integrate with the new system.
Why do you need an experienced architect?
The old construction saying “measure twice, cut once” holds true for software design, especially for systems integration projects. You will save time and money by crafting one careful integration plan and by having an experienced architect who can see the big picture and slice the correct parts to the related individuals to build.
The user experience design for your systems integration will include looking at how users interact with the current systems, speaking with selected users and stakeholders, and examining user feedback and wish lists while coordinating with the integration architect’s model. The new integrated system will need to feel comfortable and familiar enough for it to be easily adopted, yet new enough that users find it new and exciting.
Does design really matter?
Today’s user is a very sophisticated one who utilizes a wide variety of software every day—on phones, tablets, kiosks, and computers. A leading reason for leaving a job to move to another company is related to systems frustration. A systems integration project conducted with an excellent user experience will save on HR costs and improve company culture.
As the individual components are integrated with the new system, significant integration testing will take place. Operational testing to ensure each component integrates with the system and user testing to ensure the new workflow is smooth and easy to use will occur. This integration process requires close attention to the individual details and a strong understanding of the entire system.
Can’t we just push a launch button and go?
You could, but it shouldn’t be recommended. You will want an agile approach that completes the stages of integration in a manageable way on a schedule incorporating feedback as you go instead of in one big bang at the end. Designing, building, and testing iteratively throughout the systems integration implementation process will serve you well.
As your business continues to grow and change, your software will also need to evolve. You may choose to add features, offer new services, or to connect new solutions to your integration. You might want to replace systems with expensive fees with custom software you build to decrease those lifetime costs. If you decide to start small and connect just two systems and then evolve over time until you have your own custom integrated system.
Will I really need to evolve?
You will. How much evolution depends on the type of business you run and the changes it experiences. Having a systems integration partner who understands the evolution of both your industry and software will ensure you are prepared for growth related to your business in your services from the beginning of your integration project.
5 Reasons why systems integrations fail.
Systems integration projects are not easy and as many as 70% fail to achieve their goals on time and on budget. Before you start your integration project, consider some of the main reasons why these integration projects could run over budget and over time.
1. Lack of Business Involvement
Do not be tempted to think that because all of the systems exist and your development team understands their functions that software systems integration is an IT project. Without input from the business team, the needs of your users will be missed. An integration is not a simple reshuffling of the building blocks of your ecosystem; in fact, the new system will both look and act differently than what your team works with now. It is crucial that all of the stakeholders contribute to the integration process consistently throughout the project.
2. Lack of Integration Expertise
Many excellent software developers will attempt a systems integration project only to realize midway through that they are out of their depth. Integration requires a specialized skill set with a deep understanding of data, experience with integration technologies, and strong business knowledge. You will not need to keep an integration specialist on your team full time, but you should hire an expert who can architect and help lead the project. If you have an in-house development team, you may want to have one of your developers work with the integration partner to ensure they can maintain the newly integrated system. If you do not have a team on the payroll, ask your systems integration partner about support and maintenance options at the onset of the project.
3. Lack of a Long-term Integration Strategy
Running a business is complex and so is the software that you need to support your business. Your overall software strategy needs to be part of your ongoing business planning process and should include your systems integration strategy. As your business grows, pivots, changes in strategy, you will need to update your software integration strategy to accommodate your needs. Have clear accountability with inputs from your various stakeholders to ensure that everyone with a vested interest in your company’s success contributes to your software strategy planning.
4. Legacy Systems Issues
If some of the systems you have in place are old or out of date, challenges related to updating and integrating into a more modern system will occur. They may lack the interfacing capabilities that are currently considered standard in solutions and will need some adaptation. Integration may be the right time to move your entire system to a cloud-based solution phasing out the on-premises servers or you may want to consider a hybrid solution with a systems integration layer that connects the legacy system with development of the new system. Either way, you will want to make an intentional and thoughtful integration choice that best serves your needs.
5. New Integration Tools
New technologies designed to make life simpler are created regularly. They come with slick advertising pages and lofty promises. However, a systems integration solution needs more than just the newest integration tool to create connectivity. You want an integration that will work within your entire ecosystem and will scale with your business. The talented makers of that latest integration tool have not looked under the hood of your systems, so they cannot determine exactly how far that technology will take you. The better choice is to ask your systems integration company about these tools and whether one should be included as part of your new system.
5 Tips for Successful Systems Integration
Here are some best practices that can ensure your systems integration project is successful.
Build what you need when you need it. Do not be tempted to tackle an enormous systems integration development project. Instead, start small by identifying items related to immediate business benefits and build those first. Focusing on a small integration and receiving feedback from users will ensure you build sustainably and economically.
The more you can automate tasks in your systems integration the better. You will free up the time of your team members and reduce the likelihood of errors. Take every opportunity during the integration process to boost the productivity of your team and your integration software.
All software project plans, including systems integration projects, should address security concerns. Data may need to be encrypted as it moves between systems or a new security process may be needed if employees will be accessing the integrated system on personal devices.
Integration test plans should be created early and used often. Whether you are using automated test scripts or manual testing, you will want to be certain you have a continual feedback loop in your integration development iterations.
Build in logging and monitoring to allow you to know when something fails. Since systems integration connects the systems that are entirely yours with those run outside your control, you need to always know if and when something goes down or needs service in your ecosystem.
An Integrated Future
The importance of systems integration is clear when you examine how much employee time and productivity is wasted navigating convoluted workflows and disjointed solutions. Additionally, systems integration will improve the visibility of your business through real-time data allowing you to make highly informed decisions quickly and easily. After integration, your team will spend less time battling with computers and more time helping customers and growing your business.
If you want to learn more about how to start your systems integration project, contact Geneca for a free consultation today.