Introduction to Software Integration
As a business continues to grow, executive teams may need to utilize multiple software solutions to improve their management. For example, if a clothing company's consumer base is expanding, owners may implement inventory management and order optimization software to effectively meet demand.
When using more than one software subsystem for business functions, organizations need to adopt an integration tool to synchronize their disparate data sources. This will allow top leaders and managers to practice effective data management and will understand the full scope of their business.
What is Software Integration?
Software integration is the practice of connecting and unifying different types of software parts or sub-systems. Oftentimes, organizations may need to conduct software integration because they are transitioning to a new cloud-based data app from a legacy system.
Companies that use multiple databases or have various applications will also integrate their software to have uniform metrics. By having all data collected and processed in one system, business teams can effectively use and analyze all their information.
Traditionally, businesses will need professional software integrators to connect their systems. These specialists can design and implement integration applications that meet a company's needs. However, with advancements in technology, many software providers offer integration solutions that will streamline the connection process between different system platforms.
This allows users to manage integrations, try new technologies, and gain valuable insights without the cost of engineers, software developers, and specialized integrators.
3 Questions to Ask About Software Integration
Software integration can be a complicated process, especially if a company utilizes many software systems or have separate big data sources. Before syncing data together with an integration tool, organization leaders should first answer the 3 key questions to ensure proper unification.
1. What Type of Software Needs to be Integrated?
Large-scale companies typically use in-house software, which is a solution that a corporate entity created for an organization. Many businesses will also use software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. These are cloud-based applications that are centrally hosted and are typically sold to businesses on a subscription basis. The following are the most common SaaS systems that businesses often utilize.
- Inventory management software
- Inventory ordering optimization
- Employee management software
- Employee scheduling software
- Online document signing solutions
These software solutions can typically be integrated to streamline business functions.
When using in-house software, businesses will typically need a team of engineers or specialists to integrate systems. However, SaaS solutions can be connected with the use of Application Programming Interface (API) integration, which are tools within a system.
With APIs, companies can use native integrations. This is when data is moved to another system within an app. They can also use solutions, such as Integration Platforms as a Service (iPaaS), which can link disparate software using cloud technology.
Some organizations may also need a tool that provides either one-way or two-way integrations. The former refers to when data is migrated from one app to another. A two-way integration, on the other hand, is when multiple databases are all synced with the same information.
3. Which Type of Data Requires Integration?
Data can encompass a variety of information, from metrics to product names. To begin system integration, managers need to identify what forms of data they need to collect. With this understanding, it will be easier to determine which software needs to be integrated together.
For example, a company wants to have a detailed look into their customers' behavior and preferences. To do so, they should compile data about the shopper's historical purchases, buying patterns, and transactions. This can be done by integrating the company's customer relationship management (CRM) system and the point-of-sale (POS) software since these apps contain key consumer data.
Why is Software Integration Necessary?
Organizations may need to integrate their software systems for a variety of reasons, depending on their size and demands.
- Merging Disparate Systems
Companies that use multiple systems to manage their inventory, employees, and data reports, for example, will need an integration tool. For example, a retail store that uses a point-of-sale system may integrate it with inventory management software. This will help them track their stock levels in real-time, maintain optimal quantities of merchandise in their store, and make replenishments in a timely manner.
- Migrating from Legacy Systems to Modern Apps
Legacy systems refer to outdated methods or technology. To ensure data security, save money, and boost accessibility, many businesses have been adopting more modern software applications. They will often use an integration tool that helps with integrating data from the legacy system to modern apps.
When syncing software systems together, organizations can experience an increase in functionality. For example, connecting an employee scheduling system to the human resource software will automate payroll processes and ensure pay accuracy. By increasing functionality, the business can optimize its processes and prevent technology silos.
Types of Software Integration
When performing software integration, management teams should consider the 4 main methods.
1. Star Integration
Star integration is the process of developing connections within all software subsystems. Its name comes from the fact that when all the systems are interconnected, its diagram would look like a star. Depending on the number of systems that are being integrated, its links may also look like spaghetti. Therefore, this method is sometimes referred to as the spaghetti method.
This type of integration is considered efficient because teams can reuse software functionalities. However, when businesses need to add new subsystems, they will need to spend a significant amount of time and money to perform the integration.
2. Horizontal Integration
A horizontal integration, also known as the Enterprise Service Bus, is the method of establishing a system for communication. Its main feature is message transmission and message monitoring. It also provides services, such as data transformation and mapping. Additionally, horizontal integrations will reduce the number of links for each subsystem. This approach will allow for flexibility, in which teams can add, remove, or adjust a system without interrupting the rest of the components.
This type of software integration works well for businesses that have many large, disparate systems. It is also cost-efficient to utilize this method because the expense of integration will become less expensive as the system expands. Therefore, horizontal integration can help businesses in the long run.
3. Vertical Integration
In contrast to horizontal integration, vertical integration is a short-term solution and is considered a fast and inexpensive option for software unification. For this method, the company must develop functional entities for their software systems and vertically sync them.
Vertical integrations can provide many benefits, such as better control over business processes and maximized competitiveness. For retailers, it can also help streamline supply chain management, improve vendor communication, and reduce operating costs. However, vertical integrations will create a silo to scale the software. This means that information will not be properly shared and will be isolated in each system.
4. Common Data Format Integration
A common data format is an approach to software integration that allows businesses to avoid the use of an adapter when converting or transporting data. For this method to be effective, the data format from one system must be accepted by the other system. Common data format integration can help businesses by providing data translation and promoting automation.
6 Steps of the Software Integration Process
Once a software data integration method is selected, management teams can follow these best practices to effectively connect disjointed systems.
1. Collect Definitions, Requirements, and Specifications
To begin, teams need to determine and document the different requirements and specifications of the software systems they plan to integrate. This also entails defining what the individual application is used for and how it is used.
Managers should ask these questions so they can gain a better understanding of their software.
- What is the purpose of the software subsystem?
- How do they perform specific actions?
- What do they need from users to function efficiently?
- What types of data does the system collect?
2. Analyze the Information
Once all requirements and definitions are noted, the team must analyze them and determine if application integration is possible. In the case that it is, personnel should assess their current processes and identify what the company needs in regards to their software solutions. This will allow for research to commence on how to improve the existing system and to effectively connect them together.
3. Develop Architecture and Management Plans
At this stage, the team will create a blueprint for the integration. The architecture of the integration plan should include details about the tools that will be used. For example, it can have a diagram that shows how the systems will link to other applications. Having a visual representation of the plan will make it easier for executives to view and share with stakeholders.
4. Create the Software Integration System
The software integration system can finally be created based on the blueprint. The business team should be diligent when establishing the system and should run regular tests to ensure it is operating as intended. This step often takes the longest amount of time because developers must pay attention to details in the systems and fix them promptly before proceeding.
5. Begin Using the Integration System
If tests show that the integration system is working well and flawlessly, the organization can begin utilizing it. The software should be downloaded and set up properly for the integration to commence.
6. Evaluate System Performance Periodically
Developers should regularly evaluate the performance of the system once it is running and verify that it is working correctly. This will ensure quick identification and remediation of discrepancies and inefficiencies.
Software Integration - Key Takeaways
- Software integration is the process of connecting various types of software sub-systems to unify data collection.
- The integration process can be streamlined with the use of modern integration tools.
- Before initiating system integration, business teams must consider which of their systems need to be integrated, what tool aligns with their needs, and which data sources could benefit from integration.
- Organizations will conduct software integration for a variety of reasons. For example, businesses may need to merge different systems together or they may want to transition from legacy solutions to modern applications. Companies will also integrate software solutions to boost their overall functionalities.
- The 4 main types of application integration are star, horizontal, vertical, and common data format. An organization should assess its needs and structure to determine the best method that works for them.
- There are 6 key steps to the systems integration process that businesses should follow in order to effectively connect their data across all sources. Once software subsystems have been connected, business teams should regularly assess their processes to ensure that their systems are working correctly.