October 7, 2015
Adrian Enders, Senior Sales Engineer
As businesses grow there is need to make decisions on adapting the best business systems to manage operations. When a business first starts, an application may be purchased to manage financial records. As the business grows, separate applications are installed to manage customer relationships, orders, inventory, and other departments. Additionally, where packaged applications fail to meet the business need, custom applications and spreadsheets are implemented to fill the gaps.
Before the business is even aware, it has a software integration problem. Getting a full view of business operations becomes difficult with systems that don’t effectively integrate. Processes become inefficient with delays, duplication of effort, and increased errors.
Solving integration issues can be complex and expensive. Integration solutions can have a deep impact on the business, and a poorly designed or poorly implemented integration can cost a lot of money in lost orders, missed payments and unhappy customers. Additionally, maintaining and monitoring these solutions requires a combination of skills requiring multiple people and departments. I asked a friend, the IT administrator for one of our clients, about the struggles they have with enterprise integrations. One of the top struggles they face is gathering and organizing the various resources it takes to implement and support these solutions.
Although there is a clear demand for integrations, very few standards have been developed in this realm. There are some technologies that have helped, like XML and Web Services, but there is nothing that addresses the core problems of systems integration.
Because of the diversity of the problems and no clear standards or methodologies, there isn’t an easy solution. Nor is any one solution applicable to all problems. But there are some guidelines that can be used to help build and support successful integration solutions.
Data Replication. Different business systems and processes require access to the same data. An easy example is customer demographic information. A customer’s address may be used in a customer service application, accounting applications, and shipping and billing systems. Replication can provide access to this data from multiple systems and processes. This is a method my administrator friend uses to get data out of one of their core systems where data structure is proprietary, and not directly accessible.
Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). SOA is a collection of services that communicate with each other independent of any vendor, product or technology. Without going into a deep discussion on SOA, the fundamental design is to provide self-contained, repeatable, business activities for use in multiple applications and processes. SOA is an architecture design, not an implementation practice. By designing your systems with an SOA philosophy in mind, you can effectively integrate diverse systems.
Shared Business Functions/Processes. Multiple systems may need to check to see if a credit card number is valid, or verify a postal address, or check if certain items are in stock. One of the main drivers of integrations is that a particular business operation is spread across several different systems. But if we also apply this on a larger scale, sharing business processes could also mean collaboration; for example, multiple departments sharing the same HR or IT resources.
Understanding these methodologies and design patterns can help ease some of the challenges associated with systems integrations. Of course, there is no substitute for experience. Engage a consultant that can help discuss and design a solution appropriate for your business.
The importance of System Integration (May 30, 2015) TranzTec [http://www.tranztec.com/news-item/the-growing-importance-of-system-integration/]
PDF Version: Enterprise Integrations