At its simplest form, integration is about extracting data from one application and moving it to another.
However, reality is rarely that simple. In fact, most organizations have a mix of applications and systems from various vendors, some of which may be heavily customized. Other applications may be completely homegrown, some may be SaaS based and others may be running in the company’s own data center. Add to the mix that some applications have been in use for anywhere from one to 20 or more years, and the complexity of integrating these disparate applications is evident.
No company has ever planned to acquire a complex mix of applications that may or may not communicate with each other; instead the accumulation has occurred over years as company needs have changed and new technology tools have been introduced. Often, these applications are siloed within one department or business division – limited to data in that business entity with little or no easy access to data in other applications.
Although division- or department-focused applications fill critical, specific needs, the diversity they introduce into the enterprise system landscape can be a major source of headaches for the IT team. The value of combining data to gain deep business insights or to automate repeatable business processes often requires the integration of applications throughout the organization.
Two illustrative examples come to mind:
- One company wanted to automate the process of moving employee data from its Human Resource Management (HRM) system to three different applications: procurement system, travel expense management system and customer relationship management (CRM) system. Because there were no integrations in place between the four systems, users were manually looking up relevant data and entering it into the other systems – a time-consuming and error-prone process. Integrating these four systems was problematic because the HRM system could only export its full database, whereas the target systems only needed updates to information that had changed. This meant that getting around this issue called for more than just traditional integration.Solving the problem ultimately required a modern integration platform that could take the full HRM dataset and compare it against the payload from the previous update, identify the delta between the two datasets, and only forward the changed values to the target systems in the correct format.
- Another company was using two key enterprise systems to collect data by different user groups – a CRM system was used by sales teams to quickly capture information related to prospects and customers while an ERP system was used for order-to-cash processes and contained more detailed data on each customer. Because critical customer information was siloed in two different systems with overlapping data and lack of a single source of truth, multiple records for unique customers were created – limiting the ability to take a holistic view of one customer. To solve this problem a unified data management and integration platform was implemented to provide visibility throughout all customer interactions. This approach addressed the shift from application-centric management of information to data-centric architecture, enabling sales and marketing teams to have a 360-degree view of the customer using a global customer identity and gain new insights based on this holistic view. This ability to connect with customers and more fully understand the customer relationships led to new opportunities to increase revenue through cross-selling and upselling opportunities.
What both of these cases illustrate is that organizations are increasingly running into situations where the traditional integration approaches are not cut out to deal with the realities of the modern business. Instead, to cope with the emerging challenges around data, integration often needs to be complemented with data management in order to deal with the complexities involved. This requires some advanced capabilities from the integration platform, but also an expertly skilled and knowledgeable IT staff.
Finding that staff and retaining it, however, can be difficult. For that reason, many companies are turning to outside experts. The value of outsourcing integration services not only provides access to the latest technology but also to staff who focus on solving complex integration challenges on a day-to-day basis. Relying on outside experts for the integrations needed for automating business processes also frees in-house IT staff to focus on mission critical activities within the business.
As the volume and variety of data available to business leaders increases, so does the potential value of insights and capabilities. The most critical decision to be made is how to tap into the disparate systems and applications and how to integrate them to allow access for holistic analysis of business operations, creation of more efficient business practices and maximizing the use of resources – financial and human – within the company to outpace competitors.
What about your company? Have you run into similar complexities when automating processes and integrating applications to gain access to business insights?