When I’m explaining the importance of system integration—specifically, interconnectedness and interoperability between software systems—I like to think of it in terms of three major business needs that have arisen in the past decade.
These three things have become critical for businesses to remain competitive in a space where companies and customers alike want the most accurate, up-to-date information available, all while minimizing costs.
1. The Need for Real-Time Data
The first consideration when it comes to system integration is also the most important.
Many businesses rely on access to accurate information in as close to real-time as possible in order to make better decisions. If we didn’t need to have data in real-time, then interoperability wouldn’t matter.
Who cares if the information is in two different systems? I have time to download it, run reports, maybe sync up the systems once a month.
Now, however, if a multi-location or web-based business keeps sales data in Salesforce or Microsoft DM, it’s important that the ERP system lets the sales team know if the part or product is available.
If they quote a customer, will they be able to deliver? Or, if the system tells the online customer that a product is available to ship, is that actually true?
Without an integrated system and real-time data, it’s impossible to know.
2. The Need for Accuracy
A secondary but interrelated consideration is the need for accuracy. Having data in real-time doesn’t matter if the data is wrong.
Let’s say your leadership team needs to make a business decision right now that will have an impact on tomorrow. If the company doesn’t have up-to-date, accurate information then they can’t reliably make a good decision.
I always say that the two most important questions to ask in any business are: “Did I have a good yesterday?” and “How can I impact tomorrow?”
Of course, you need good data to answer these questions.
If the data that I need to aggregate is in multiple systems, then I need a foolproof method to bring this data together as soon as possible to drive better decisions—and to enable the systems to make better decisions, too.
For example, when a salesperson is helping a customer place an order, they’re using a system which accesses the aggregated data of what’s in stock. If there’s a lag, or inaccurate data, the system might say that you can complete the order when you can’t.
If you’re trying to create systems that can help your team make decisions faster and better, then the systems also need accurate, real-time data. To get that, you need your systems to be well integrated.
The real key to accuracy is to make the systems communicate automatically rather than relying on people to hand-manipulate the data. The more you’re able to automate interoperability, the less likely you are to make mistakes.
3. The Need to Save Time and Money
One final consideration for system integration is the need to conserve your resources. Don’t use your people to do what machines can do faster, more accurately, and at less cost. Automatic interconnectedness creates operational efficiency and frees your people up to do what only people can do.
Fortunately, there’s been a dramatic shift in the time and resources required to manage data and integrate systems in the last 15 years.
- There was a time when all data required dual entry—enter the information here, enter there—which was incredibly time and resource intensive.
- Then we moved to an import/export model completed on a regular cycle. Some businesses conducted an integration every night, for instance, so today the CRM reflected where they ended yesterday.
- Data warehouses were created to solve the data storage problem and provide a way to do these integrations, but there was still a lag. We were getting closer to real-time but weren’t there yet, and the process required a lot of resources to maintain.
It’s only been through the creation of APIs and cloud services that we’ve been able to achieve automated, real-time data at a reasonable cost. By providing a way for systems to talk to each other (APIs) and then publishing these APIs as consumable microservices, we have greatly simplified interoperability.
Don’t Settle For Mediocrity; Integrate Your Systems for a Perfectly Tailored Solution
More than anything else, service-based architecture has made real-time interoperability more feasible. With the need for real-time data, accuracy, and a desire to save time and money—it’s no wonder that interoperability through system integration is becoming more and more of a goal for organizations.
Just a short time ago it was nearly impossible to integrate all the systems required for your business to run, and companies tried to find comprehensive solutions that met all their needs. Often these one-size-fits-all approaches were at best adequate, and at worst a huge waste of time and money.
Luckily advances in technology have made it exponentially easier and cheaper to integrate the systems that satisfy your needs. Don’t try to find a single system that does it all, doesn’t quite fit with anything, and is mediocre at everything; choose best-of-breed solutions that truly model your practices, and use interoperability to make them work together.