Improving the quality and efficiency of your business-critical systems does not always have to require completely rebuilding systems. Opting instead for a systems integration approach can reduce operational silos and deliver results without a major overhaul.
To ensure the success of your project, it is crucial to make informed decisions on how to integrate systems. Research shows that 89% of organisations face difficulties when dealing with data and systems integration. Selecting the best integration practices can lead to a smooth integration process, while choosing an incorrect approach may have significant impacts on project outcomes and costs.
In this article we will explore the 5 best practices for systems integration projects. By following these practices, your organisation can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your integration process, reduce costs, and avoid common pitfalls.
The types of systems integration projects
System integration projects come in many variations, ranging from small scale initiatives to large-scale, enterprise-wide implementations. In some cases, a system may be integrated with existing applications, such as customer relationship management (CRM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.
Other times, a bespoke solution is developed to integrate two or more systems that cannot be easily connected through existing tools or technologies. In such cases, a custom integration solution is created to meet the specific needs of the business and ensure that data can flow seamlessly between systems. This may involve designing and building custom APIs, creating middleware to connect different systems or developing custom scripts to automate data transfer and synchronisation.
Legacy systems pose challenges during systems integration. This type of integration is common in ERP legacy system integration projects, where integrating older ERP systems with newer ones can streamline processes and improve efficiency. However, these integrations can be complex and require maintaining data integrity and security.
To overcome these challenges, organisations often turn to system integrator companies with expertise in legacy system integration and ERP integration, who can develop effective strategies and provide ongoing support and maintenance.
Systems integration specialists can use their expertise to identify opportunities for improvement within existing systems architectures. From here a strategy can be developed to integrate these systems with other components of an organisation's IT infrastructure.
The best practices for successful systems integration projects
1. Map your process flows
Analysis is an essential factor in the success of integration projects, as it provides a better grasp of integration and its implications on systems. This allows for informed decisions on data replication and potential crossovers.
Real-time distributed transaction systems with message queues offer greater capabilities than data replication between systems, but this comes with added complexity. Therefore, thorough analysis within each system and between integrated systems is necessary for successful integration.
One area that businesses should consider when defining integration requirements for success is unhappy paths. These paths are deviations from standard processes. Thoroughly scrutinise current processes, identify deviations, and take an agile approach led by systems integration specialists to adapt to newly defined unhappy paths.
An agile approach allows for flexibility in adapting to newly defined unhappy paths. Rather than documenting all potential unhappy paths before kick-off as part fixed scope, this approach allows for adaptability.
2. Research off-the-shelf product APIs
When undertaking an integration project, it is important to research off-the-shelf product APIs and understand API restrictions for each product involved. For example, some off-the-shelf packages may not have an API readily available. In such cases, it may be necessary for a software provider to develop an API for system access.
This also includes understanding limitations such as the number of calls your customer service tool can handle per day and any licensing implications when accessing various aspects of a software package during integration.
Consider the frequency and size of updates and any licensing implications when accessing various aspects of a software package during integration.
Further to this, when using third party APIs, it is important to consider how often updates will take place, their size and whether these events will influence your solution.
3. Avoid database level integration
When working on an integration project, it is recommended to integrate workflows instead of data flows. Integrating at the database level should be avoided during an integration project as it can result in complications during updates, disruptions to applications and data reading issues. It can also create data reading issues and require the integration layer to maintain mapping information.
It is worth remembering too that an application programming interface (API) is a contract. When a new version of a system is released, all endeavours will be made to support existing interfaces. This may not be the case with the database structure, so any new software releases could result in failure, or the undetected issue could hamper the performance of the integrated software.
It is important to align integration technology with the business objectives of your organisation. Focusing on workflow integration can help ensure that data is properly shared and synchronised across systems, without creating unnecessary complexity or risking data inconsistencies.
In contrast, database-level integration can lead to tightly coupled systems that are difficult to maintain and update, which can undermine the effectiveness of the integration project over time. By avoiding database-level integration, organisations can ensure a more flexible, scalable and future-proof integration solution that can adapt to changing business needs and technology requirements.
4. Minimise data duplication
The objective of a systems integration project is to improve work processes by ensuring efficient data management through the integration of systems. The integrated systems should store data individually to avoid data being spread across multiple systems.
Where possible, to prevent data duplication, only enable updates on one of your systems, then simply roll out the changes – rather than having the laborious job of individual updates. This practice can help minimise potential issues when auditing, leading to better business efficiency.
Having multiple integrated systems responsible for maintaining the same data entity can lead to undesirable race conditions and will cause more potential issues when auditing. The duplication of data can lead to operational inefficiencies, such as inconsistencies in data and wasted resources.
5. Modular releases
When you are looking to roll out the releases of your project, take a staged approach to reduce risk and minimise disruption to your business processes. Adopting a modular release approach in systems integration projects can help conserve valuable resources and reduce risk. This approach involves breaking down the project into smaller, more manageable parts and releasing them incrementally.
By doing so, a project team can quickly identify any issues and address them before moving on to the next phase, reducing the risk of major setbacks or delays. Additionally, delivering functionality in stages allows end-users to experience the benefits of the integration sooner, enhancing business processes and improving overall satisfaction.
Delivering the work in stages may not always be a feasible option, but opting for this methodology can help introduce functionality to the end users as soon as possible and improve your business processes.
Whether you are looking to start an integration project or looking for more information on the best approaches to take, get in touch. Audacia has experience in Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) for CRM, ERP, and finance systems, including COINS, Salesforce and SAP.
Find out more about how Audacia delivers system integration over on our service page.