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ENTERPRISE DIGITAL SOLUTIONS

System Integration

When it comes to system integrations how do you integrate different systems together?

To bring two or more different systems together, the data in these systems use need to be transformed so each if the system can process it. This can be done by creating a common data set that all components can use, or by modifying data individual components to enable them to interact with each other.

 

 

 

What is system integration?

The term system integration is used to explain any efforts in connecting different parts, components or systems into one combined, unified and larger system. Software system integration refers to bringing together multiple IT software solutions and systems, allowing them to function and interact with each other.

The objective of integrating systems is to enable each of the components to be able to deal with, and interpret the data that has been created and used in the components.

Integrated systems speed up the flow of information around the business, reducing duplication of effort and improving productivity. Integrated systems enable users to get the data and information they need more quickly. Integrated systems also enable you to provide higher levels of customer service and accountability.

 

When to integrate systems

If your enterprise has multiple software solutions for different sections of the business, you are not alone. The technology infrastructure of many of our modern organisations has been building up over time; gradually turning into complex webs of systems.

Each component may be essential for users to enable them to be able to fulfill a single task or function. But in most cases, these systems interact inefficiently, or are unable to interact at all. In terms of software systems, you may find yourself in a position where you have many components including:

  • Data and records management
  • CX (customer experience system)
  • Inventory
  • Ecommerce systems
  • Payroll
  • Accounting
  • Digital asset management

Plus any number of databases, and individual records and files. In these complex webs, some systems may have the capacity to call upon data from another, but even when this can occur it is piecemeal and lacking cohesion.

Using these isolated systems inevitably means your staff have to jump from one system to another, In doing so, time is wasted entering data into multiple locations, and there is a high chance that errors will be made.

There are also cost associated with acquiring and regularly updating multiple software solutions. Systems integration can help you and your business save money, save time, reduce risk and improve your brand profile to ultimately increase profits.

 

Types of system integration methods

  • Point to point integration- the simplest way of connecting two system components, enabling them to work together. Using an app on top of an existing system can even be considered an example of point to point integration.
  • Vertical integration- involves stacking data or systems into individual sets, or silos, and layering them from the bottom up, with the simplest systems and functions dwelling on the bottom. It’s easy to visualise the systems being built up like a tower of blocks. It is best used from simpler integrations where there is a singular functionality required.
  • Star integration- if you’re visualizing the starry night sky, then you’re not far off. A star integration method involves each sub-system connecting to others at various points. Because each sub-system can be interacting with multiple others, this method is better for more complex and detailed systems.
  • Horizontal integration- where sub-systems can be imagined stacked next to each other, with one strand, or connection running through all of them. This method can be used for systems with many parts, and is useful in that there is just one central connectivity channel.

 

iPaaS solutions for integrating systems

An integration platform as a service (iPaaS) is tool that has capacity to integrate software, data and apps that is running or is stored in the cloud.

These solutions enable the directories and resources used by systems to be access across multiple applications in a flexible way, and much more quickly than could be achieved by services like these in the past.

Organisations that run large and complex data systems often use iPaaS to integrate data from their own locations as well as in public and private clouds. This service enables the central control of systems in a responsive and controlled way; and is usually able to be administered internally. iPaaS is a cost effective, and fast way of running a systems integration project by connecting up and working within existing legacy systems.

 

System integration process steps

The thought of bringing data silos together can be daunting- but system integration doesn’t have to be difficult. Regardless of if you are combining three or one hundred and three systems together, there are six basic steps to plan for and roll out.

 

System integration process step one- assessment

Before you get started on the tech, or even looking at how you will integrate your systems, it’s important to be clear about what you want to achieve and why you want to do it. The assessment phase will enable you to take stock of what you currently have, and get your people starting to thinking about what they would like to see change.

You will really need to understand the needs and vision of your staff; and in some cases, where your customers are interacting with your systems; you will need to consider the end user too.

Start by clearly documenting what systems you have in place, how each is being used and any issues or complaints that users have with it. For each system in your network, determine and detail what it can, and can’t do. Ask questions like “what would happen if we didn’t have this system” and “what would make using this system easier for you?”

 

System integration process step two- structure

If you haven’t brought in an integration specialist or project lead yet, you will need to do so by the time you reach step two. This person will need to be able to understanding the role and use of all of the component parts, and be able to see the big picture of how they might work together.

In this stage, you will need to map out how integration will work. This will result in the creation of a detailed map which shows how each of those independent systems will be connected to the others to create a cohesive framework.

The structural model for your integration process will show how information moves through the systems, establishing hierarchies of data flow. It should also show at which points users will be interacting within the system. An integration project plan can be developed at this point too, outlining responsibilities and activities that need to occur.

 

System integration process step three- design

By stage three you’ve been able to clearly see how the new inclusive system should look and function; and you’re ready to get into design mode.

Work to implement the structural model can get underway, and your programmers, engineers and super users can get on with individually allocated tasks and project roles. This might involve undertaking work to help ensure that the system has usability and functionality to suit your people. Make sure that your design has the end user in mind.

 

System integration process step four- testing

Once the systems have been brought together, another necessary step is that of testing the interactions between the different components. This important step allows you to verify that there is adequate communication between each sub-system and that there is a good functionality and information flow.

This will mean ensuring that information hierarchies are adhered to, that information provided is functionally correct and there is a high degree of data integrity and accuracy.

 

System integration process step five- implementation

The testing undertaken in step four may mean you need to rethink, or go back for a bit more work on some of your components.When it comes to very complex integration projects, many organisations conduct a staggered implementation, so that incremental improvements can be made along the way.

Now is the time to review your integration project plan, see how you are tracking against time and budget, and make a decision about if you want to enable some component integrations, or, wait until everything is ready and set to go.

 

System integration process step six- adaptations

In some ways, you should never consider a systems integration project truly completed. When dealing with complex data webs, you will need to be continually monitoring how different data is working together. Sub-systems or components may become obsolete, or needed to be updated. You may recognise opportunities for efficiencies.

You may be able to find out-the-box solutions for complex functions that you have had to fully customise. Be prepared to regularly review and assess your overall integration model and make updates to stay ahead of changes and trends.

 

How to achieve a successful system integration

Following these six steps will put you in good stead for your integration project. Here are five more considerations to help ensure you have a successful roll out and uptake.

  • Simplicity- if the project seems too big to tackle all at once, then don’t. Connecting up smaller systems first, especially where there are clear commonalities and objectives can be a better approach than going too big too soon.
  • Consistency- ensuring you have good standards and procedures in place for data naming, storage and use will help you a lot when it’s time to bring all the components together.
  • Automation- look for ways that systems can come together that don’t involve manual data entry or monitoring. You will reduce the chance of errors and end up with a higher degree of data integrity.
  • Safety- as with any new technology, make sure that you are handling data it an ethical and legal way within your systems. Data security is a big deal nowadays, and you don’t want to leave your organisation vulnerable by not thinking through any gaps in the network.
  • Feedback- be prepared for failure, and make sure you have a proactive approach to quickly and skillfully addressing any problems that show up during testing. Make sure people feel confident to share their findings and show them that you are listening to their concerns.

 

  • Excitement- don’t let the fear of change get in the way of your project. System integration can offer everyone a lot of opportunity; and a chance to banish those lingering frustrations about systems that don’t support their work.

 

Challenges of system integration

Even the simplest integration project can be met with challenges. These challenges may originate within the systems or technology, or through the process of the integration project. Problems can be machine or manmade. System integration issues may include:

  • Unclear project objectives or plan- this occurs when there isn’t a clear vision for what the system integration needs to achieve
  • Constantly changing methodology and technology- enterprise businesses need to be agile but integration projects can take several years, during which time a lot can change
  • Organisational change management- bringing systems together can mean they operate differently and sometimes employees are unwilling to change long established practices
  • Resourcing issues- specialised integration professionals are hard to find and often organisations don’t have the experience or expertise required in-house
  • Responsibility and accountability- combining multiple systems means bringing together multiple users and stakeholders and the lines of responsibility can become blurry

 

System integration process flow

Your integration design or architecture map will guide you on the order in which systems should be brought into the integrated solution. You will need to consider the amount of data contained in each component, the information requirement hierarchy and determine what is deemed to be critical for the business.  

You will probably find that there is some apprehension around the place about what changes the integration will bring. Around step three is also the time to start preparing your people for the change; get them excited for the opportunities for improvement that better information flow and integration will bring.

 

System integration project plan example

There are plenty of great, and free resources online to help you map out your integration project. Each of them will typically outline in more detail the steps described in this article.You will also likely to find helpful advice about how individual systems might be able to work together on the websites of each of the software components.

 

An Integrated Future

No matter what your business or service, we are noticing that all of our customers have a clear need for individual systems to work better together. When you start to realise the benefits that integration will bring; enhanced productivity, more accurate data, and less system frustrations, it’s time to get your integration journey underway.

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