The term “integration” is often times regarded within a mindset of synchronizing multiple systems of record via daily, scheduled, periodic, or in some cases, real-time updates of data that occur within one application that has an impact on one or more other applications. In many cases, this rather myopic view leads to inefficiencies and less than desirable business results. True “integration” requires addressing four key pillars that are often not addressed by software implementation projects.
Typically, business software users will require multiple applications in order to perform effectively in their roles when performing tasks within business processes in any organization. A large portion of their daily tasks may simply involve the use of “Office” client-side applications, e.g., Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, etc. While other business tasks may require the use of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Human Resource Management (HRM), or other licensed or in-house developed application solutions. Ignoring this reality by simply integrating ERP, CRM, & HRM from a data synchronization effort for instance, does not ease the burden on the end user, who must interact via multiple application user experiences as well as copy/paste/export/etc. structured data into Office applications.
Integration of Processes
Business processes more often than not, involve the collaboration of multiple people in multiple roles. Given that most employees are subject to the problems outlined within the previous “Integration of People” discussion, inefficiencies and latency are commonplace when coupled with the need to collaborate with other people/roles. Most business processes can be optimized by introducing automated workflows that guide process tasks through a lifecycle that eliminates some tasks, and reduces latency in others.
Integration of Data
Typical ERP, CRM, HRM, and other applications contain a large amount of “structured data” which is required by the application. However, the very nature of this structured data is not always in a format that provides the information required to make critical business decisions. Given the nature of these potentially disperse application data stores, as well as the structured nature of the underlying data, the need to transform raw data into usable information is often critical to the success of any integration project.
Integration of Systems
Now, finally coming back to the concept that most people jump to when discussing integration, the reality remains that there is, and likely always will be, a need to integrate multiple systems of record. The best-of-breed or in-house proprietary software solutions can in fact bring a level of differentiating capability that is crucial to a business’ success. The key to successfully integrating multiple systems of record is supporting best practices in regards to the proper method. Be that synchronous, asynchronous, publish and subscribe, extract, transform, and load. Or simplistic means such as copy and paste. Certainly web services have now created a platform from which any of these methods can be used as the need dictates. The key being that web services for all entities either exist or can easily be created.
In summary, integration is a larger discussion than just synchronizing data.