David Akka is the Managing Director of Magic Software Enterprises (UK) Ltd. He previously worked in project management, professional services and CTO roles.
Resistance to change, the level of risk involved, and the investment required with no immediate benefits are just some of the reasons why most IT departments put off system integration projects.
But with enterprise mobility becoming a reality, on-line collaboration on the rise, and new cloud services coming on board, there is an urgent need to update systems to manage data securely and effectively throughout the enterprise.
Because of the complexity, length and expense of these projects, it’s always helpful to step back and make sure the overall strategy is in place before the development work begins.
Here are six tips to having a successful systems integration.
1. Recruit champions and keep them on board
Management needs to provide their input from the beginning and be viewed as a significant partner. Champions inside the affected business need can articulate the benefits to their colleagues also helps sell the project to users.
Avoid blame culture by fostering a strategic view and attitudes of openness, cooperation and problem-solving across all management and departments on the project. Make sure all complexities are discussed with vendors and subcontractors so roadblocks can be identified early and be avoided.
2. Have a series of small successes
Integration projects are typically wide-ranging and complex, following a grand strategic vision of how the company should look; this view means that the reality often looks incomplete and with endless work ahead.
The project has a greater chance of success when the overall project is broken down into small steps that each bring demonstrable value.
3. Make sure all security challenges are addressed
Now that sensitive data in backend enterprise systems are available via a smartphone, it is critical to understand all of the workflows and when sensitive data can be compromised.
The risks of data breaches are even higher due to employees using their own devices and private cloud services. This requires a shift in thinking from security data to securing processes.
On mobile alone, there are a range of ways to achieve this, from securing the device with passwords, MDM solutions, and geofences, to securing access to the applications, often through containers, and finally securing the data itself, by encrypting and ensuring it is not stored on the device.
4. Use the relevant integration tools
Not all tools are the same: making sure that you fully understand what you need today and what you might need tomorrow will help you choose the most relevant ones.
There are two main types of integration tool: on one side you have data synchronization/upload tools; and on the other is process-based integration. If you’re after an ETL or data synchronization, then a data synchronization tool is ideal; and if you want to integrate workflows or processes then you need a process-based integration tool.
Third-party tools have the advantage that they are optimized to deal with vendor’s technology stacks (especially those which have vendor-certified connectors and capabilities) but they are also optimized to integrate between stacks. So if you are thinking of integrating technologies from multiple vendors or want to keep your options open for the future, it’s worth looking into vendor-agnostic tools as these will provide best-of-breed capabilities out of the box.
5. Monitoring and performance management is critical
Along with fault-tolerance, resilience, and elasticity, monitoring and performance management capabilities are the key additions to integration solutions. The need for guaranteed message delivery means monitoring is vital.
If a system fails during transmission the integration tool needs to recognize when it can resend the message. Further, monitoring capabilities allow systems to automatically cache transmissions that cannot be sent, and grant extra resources to deal with sudden peaks in demand.
6. Justify the costs
Systems integration can be expensive, both in terms of tools and man hours, but the process shouldn’t be considered as a cost, because of the benefits experienced due to receiving real-time data to improve business processes.
I worked with a large shipping insurer who benefited from using real-time data to dramatically reduce its rate of theft and losses. This led directly to a significant reduction in its insurance costs.
Integration can bring significant value, and not necessarily where you expect; so rather than being concerned about the costs, think about the costs advantages you are missing.
System integration projects can be the most difficult to plan, execute and manage. But when simple guidelines are followed the risks can be minimized and the enterprise can benefit more easily from improved technologies and applications.