Business system integration is a process which aim is to connect several systems and enable the automatic transfer of consistent data between them. This facilitates co-operation between individual departments or branches of the company, the contractors or sales platforms.
Many enterprises have several departments that have their own processes and operations or systems. One way to improve business strategies is to integrate these processes to simplify collaboration and communication between departments in an organization. If you are a leader in your organization, you might want to consider implementing the process of business systems integration. You will certainly optimize the work of many people with this move and you will gain access to clear data from several sources.
In this article, we will explain what business systems integration is, explain why it is important, indicate the stages and present what the implementation process should look like.
The Importance of Business Systems Integration for Your Organization
Collecting and analyzing data is an integral part of every company's business. Thanks to the correct data analysis, company leaders have the opportunity to make the right decisions that translate into financial benefits for enterprises. Implementation of the software in the company significantly facilitates and accelerates these processes. However, if individual departments use separate systems, there is a need for centralization. Logistics, sales department, accounting or design office have tools only to control processes related only to their areas of activity. This is associated with problems such as:
Difficulty in obtaining an overview of the situation of the entire company;
Time-consuming process of collecting and analyzing data - it is necessary to carry out phased analyzes starting from partial reports based on data from individual systems;
The risk of making erroneous analyzes or missing important information - which in turn may adversely affect the condition of the company;
Extended time for entering and searching for data - often specific information needs to be entered into several systems separately (e.g. customer data), which in turn - consumes additional time.
The first, almost intuitive solution to the above problems is to integrate all systems. Integration can be done in several ways. The correct implementation of business systems integration will instantly transfer to effective management and thus the success of the enterprise.
Exploring the Benefits of System Integration
What are the benefits of integrating data and software?
Transparency and efficiency for employees
Instead of dealing with multiple software systems, applying duplicate data, employees can use a single system using multiple tools. This makes it easier to avoid human error and devote time to high-priority tasks.
Ability to make the right decisions
The fact that information is located in one place means that you can spend time analyzing and making favorable decisions, rather than wasting valuable time collecting and combining data in a useful way. As a part of your systems integration project, you can create a single dashboard that houses statistics, insights, and data for benchmarking and identifying trends.
When we hold data in many different systems, it may require us to spend more time summarizing it. The situation becomes even more complicated when we are dealing with a very large amount of data or more systems. Their integration will enable data to be sent to one central system in real time. This automatically translates into the ability to make strategic decisions regarding company management based on valuable data.
Securing a large number of systems or relying on software vendors to protect systems introduces more risk. A certain stage of the process during the integration project must be the analysis and ensuring the security of the organization. An integrated system should have a mechanism that ensures the security of data entered by users.
Grow your business faster
When time spent on low-priority tasks decreases and access to high-quality data increases, employees can focus on company growth. Integration impacts the simplicity of use. The company gains time for wise management based on the development of new services and meeting the needs of new customers.
Saving disk space and costs
By collecting information in one place, we save space on computer disks, reduce the cost of ordering, installing and maintaining a large number of systems. We also save time spent on system updates, lower the budget for the purchase of licenses or subscriptions.
Types of Business Systems Integration
There are three types of System Integration:
Enterprise Application Integration (EAI)
The role of this process is to integrate applications and data within the enterprise, enable the data sharing between multiple IT systems and the integration of business processes distributed within the enterprise into one coherent set.
Data Integration (DI)
Data integration is the process of combining data from various sources into a single, searchable schema which provides an integrated view of that data. Large enterprises often maintain separate databases for storing department-specific data. Unfortunately, any cross-departmental analysis of these datasets becomes impossible.
Electronic Document Integration/Interchange (EDI)
It is an automatic exchange of data and documents between different computer systems with use of fixed message formats.
Common Challenges in Business Systems Integration
Most of the problems associated with system integration are not due to technical issues, but are related to the management and changes in the systems. For example, one of the integrated systems may be updated after some time of use, which may affect its operation. The API may also be updated. In the event of such a change, it may also be necessary to change the integration solution.
When making a decision on system integration, it is important to remember that each update of one of the integrated systems must take into account the operation of the integrator. If we are dealing with internal systems, this is not a problem. The situation is more complicated in the case of systems provided by third-party operators who decide to update systems without prior warning. In such a situation, incorrect data exchange between systems may occur until the integration solution is updated. The ideal model is constant technical support for integrated systems. It will allow you to avoid faults and downtime in the company and thus save time and money.
It is also worth ensuring that the integration is carried out in a professional manner. Reaching for internal IT resources in the company may not always be the best solution. Very often it is more profitable to commission the integration to a company that specializes in this type of solution. Thanks to this, we will avoid mistakes and gain people who already have experience in specific integrations.
How to Implement Business Systems Integration: Best Practices and Tips
Below is a guide to effective and secure integration. The application of good practices will certainly help to carry out the integration process properly.
Step 1: Thorough Analysis
Analysis is a key aspect of any integration. Thanks to the analysis, you can better understand what integration is and what impact it will have on your systems. Thanks to this, you will get information whether your integration project will involve the replication of any data or triggering crossovers in your operating systems. Distributed, real-time transactional systems with message queues are much more powerful than replication of data between systems. But with this added power comes complexity and therefore the need for a much higher level of analysis - firstly, within each system, and secondly, between integrated systems. Analysis is needed to examine existing processes and how they manage data when defining paths to success.
Step 2: Research Off-the-Shelf Product APIs
An essential part of the integration project remains the need for accessible APIs to access and integrate with other products' data. Make sure you research API capabilities where they are currently being used. For example, if you want to integrate your system with a ready-made solution and the API does not exist, the software vendor would have to develop it for you to access your system. Also, make sure you understand the API limitations of any product involved in a software integration project. For example, is there a limit to the number of calls a customer service tool can handle per day, or are there any licensing implications for accessing various aspects of the software suite during integration? In addition, when using third-party APIs, consider the frequency of updates, their size, and the impact of these events on the solution.
Step 3: Avoid Database Level Integration
For a successful integration project, integrate workflows, not dataflows. Choosing to integrate at the database level has the potential to bypass much of the business logic and data validation, which can have a detrimental effect on systems integration. Database-level integration can cause great damage when updating records and files, causing severe impact to applications running on that database. There may also be problems reading data when records can be changed in the application. This mapping information then needs to be handled by the integration layer, so it's key to avoid linking at the database level. It is worth remembering that an application programming interface (API) is a contract. When a new version of the system is released, every effort will be made to support the existing interfaces. This may not be the case with the database structure, so any new versions of the software may crash or an undetected problem may hamper the operation of the integrated software.
Step 4: Minimize Data Duplication
The goal of systems integration project is to provide more efficient and effective work processes. You need integrated systems to store data individually and avoid storing data in different systems. If possible, to prevent duplication of data, enable updates on only one of your systems, and then simply deploy the changes instead of doing tedious work of individual updates. Having multiple integrated systems responsible for maintaining the same unit of data can lead to undesirable race conditions and cause more potential audit issues. Keep it separate to keep things simple.
Step 5: Modular Releases
When you want to deploy new versions of your project, you need to take a phased approach to reduce risk. This way you can start building a working concept and model with some parts of your systems instead of picking one big build at the end of your system integration project. Delivering work in phases may not always be a viable option, but choosing this methodology along with the use of proof of concept, prototypes, minimum products, and betas can help bring functionality to end users as quickly as possible. Make sure your integration project is a success by following these best practices and maximize the potential of your business-critical systems.
Choosing a Partner for Business Systems Integration
Choosing an IT company is a key point in the process of integrating business systems. Price should not be the most important factor that is taken into consideration as the apparent savings can actually turn into additional expenses. One should look for a company that has an experience in carrying out similar integrations and has skilled specialists. Remember that the risk of a system failure can cost a company a lot of money.
Place importance on communication. It is worth discussing issues that you are concerned about before starting a partnership. You will gather valuable knowledge and at the same time check the level of communication with a potential partner. This is a significant factor that can affect many aspects of integration.
Remember that support is also important - it is crucial that the IT company is a partner and not just an executor of orders.
Ask for recommendations. Checking the level of satisfaction of other customers will give you a greater sense of security and confidence that you are making the right choice.