Businesses are investing heavily in systems integration projects, so how can an organisation harness its moving parts to deliver a ‘seamless’ user experience?

Systems integration is becoming more prevalent as digital, cloud and mobility solutions become deeply integrated into traditional ERP systems. Businesses are leveraging and investing in often-bespoke technology to provide a competitive edge.

Successful integration projects can revolutionise the way an organisation delivers its services, cuts costs, provide management reporting and streamlines business processes.

An Ideal World vs Integration Reality

In an ideal world, system integration combines the moving parts of various software applications, platforms or functionality to create a ‘seamless’ user experience. Examples of this type of integration include core banking projects, integrated solutions in Government clusters, online collaboration tools in media and self-service portals across multiple platforms for most industries.

Integration projects are by their very nature fraught with complexity. The idea is that sum parts of the integrated systems will combine to become greater than the sum of the individual parts and thus create a better and more sustainable business.

The key challenge with systems integration arises when conflicting business needs meet with ambiguity on how to best bring technologies, platforms and database designs together.

How do You Best Execute an Integration Project?

Successfully delivering an integration project requires amongst other things: careful planning and design, strong executive sponsorship, clear articulation of the benefits and robust governance.

Some key areas of focus include:

1) Start with the end in mind – Architecture
A strong Enterprise Architecture practice will not only provide the base framework and guidelines for the solution architects and technical teams but help ensure the technical outcomes deliver against the business needs.

2) Engage strong Executive Sponsorship
Every project needs strong sponsorship especially integration projects due to the complexity and significant change they bring.

The sponsor needs to lead and help sustain the vision. In addition to this executive leadership, ensuring there are project champions spread throughout the business will provide the project with the additional motivation and energy needed for success.

3) Good Governance
As with any project, strong and appropriate governance is essential. For integration projects this is especially the case given the complex nature and multiple stakeholders.

4) Deliver lots of wins
Nothing breeds success like success. Integration projects are not short projects. They can span multiple years and without regular and consistent reasons to celebrate it is easy for the project to become a grind and for moral and support to diminish. Delivering regular value and real outcomes demonstrate success and ensures consistent endorsement.

5) Process is key
Quality Business Analysts enable the organisation to understand where they are (current state) and where they need to be (future state). One key benefit of integration can be the automation of business processes.

Clearly documenting complex business processes for automation to ensure they meet the needs of the business and ultimately deliver the benefits and outcomes is essential.

6) Utilise best practice tools and platforms.
Specialist and relevant integration platforms and tools provide a means to ensure the integration is performed to maximum effect. Whether you need an ETL (data synchronisation tool) or a process-based integration tool, the selection of the tool can make or break the technical elements of the project.

7) Monitor and performance manage the data and message delivery
It is vital to ensure that the data/message is delivered between systems. Monitoring and measuring performance is equally vital. Nothing undermines an integration project like lost or incomplete data.

8) Deliver against the benefits
Integration can be expensive so justifying the costs against the benefits is important to getting the project off the ground. Depending on the sector and nature of the business, benefits may include:

  • New sales channels
  • Quick-release of new products to the market place
  • Overall reduction of IT costs

The benefits of systems integration can be enormous and at times unforeseen.

There are significant risks involved in systems integration projects and ensuring that these are managed through sound project delivery principles is vital.

Systems integration can bring about real transformation in an organisation and deliver a substantial market advantage. Delivering it well should be a real consideration for organisations with complex and disparate systems and processes that want to become better businesses.

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