Introduction to System Integration
For businesses juggling multiple management solutions, system integration can provide a comprehensive collection of data to improve workflow and performance. An integration solution can save a business time and resources needed to manage operational insights by mobilizing data, automating workflow, and aggregating all system information.
This eliminates the need to manually input data across multiple platforms, saving businesses valuable time, and lowering the risk of human error. Establishing an inclusive network using an integration service allows businesses to focus their resources on creating relationships with clients and increasing expansion.
Learning how system integration creates a centralized database to enhance established software can help businesses optimize internal and external operations. First, business owners must determine which system integrator best fits their operational needs through their integration process, data management, and system type.
What is System Integration?
System integration combines and consolidates individual information systems into one extensive network that allows all software applications to function together. In simpler terms, an integration software acts as data management for all of a business's established systems to seamlessly share information. By automating data sharing behind the scenes, this solution eliminates the need to enter quantities manually.
An advanced integrated system can pull payroll, time punches, employee information, sales, inventory volumes, and forecasted demand simultaneously from various systems.
For example, quantities from stock control software can be synced with transaction data from a point-of-sale (POS) system to monitor real-time inventory levels. This free flow of information enhances operational efficiency by providing updated numbers so management can make informed business decisions.
An integration system can also connect with external groups, including clients, vendors, customers, and shareholders. This allows third parties to see data on inventory levels, purchase orders, fulfillment timelines, and company performance on a unique dashboard.
While sharing information outside of the company may seem risky, integration software with modern REST API technology uses a series of encryptions that secures all private data. This process ensures that only approved members are granted access to the specifically disclosed information, which makes integration solutions especially great for the restaurant, retail, and hospitality industries where customer information is exposed during transactions.
Types of System Integration Methods
Before delving into an integration project, management must have a clear outline of the company's needs to determine which method is best for them. A business must understand the nature of the system integration process from choosing a deployment location to pinpointing subsystems. Only then can a company accurately decide how to connect their software. Common integration methods include-
1. Point-to-Point Integration
Technically, point-to-point integration is not a system integration but rather a simple connection. The functions of these connections are quite limited as it is best used for linking one system or software to another. As more systems get introduced and more connections are made, it can become unmanageable quickly. Therefore, this integration method is ideal for integrating two software to create one business function.
2. Star Integration
Star, or spaghetti, integration is a large collection of simple connections, such as point-to-point integrations. As more systems are joined, the larger the star becomes, with more junction points and connector lines.
When this integration method interconnects each software with smaller subsystems, the formation can appear like a star polyhedron at its most complex state. However, if software developers were to make a physical diagram of this solution, it would roughly resemble the shape of spaghetti, hence its nickname.
The multiple main and sub connections tend to get confusing and difficult to trace using the star integration method. So, while this solution provides more functionality than the point-to-point tactic, it requires extensive integration management and maintenance.
The ideal use for star integration is for businesses who segment their systems. For example, a law firm may have separate software for tracking client payments, running website analytics, and managing customer resources. This method could integrate data from each system so that the HR department can view it on one platform.
3, Vertical Integration
Vertical integration is different from other methods because of its structure and how it links systems. Each subsystem is connected to others with similar functions, which creates a cylindrical, or "silo," structure with simple processes at the bottom, gradually progressing to complex processes.
This linear model usually only handles a few systems with like functions, as adding a new feature requires building another silo of connections. The more separate compounds of information are produced, the more difficult it becomes for data management.
Therefore, the vertical integration method is excellent for businesses that need systems linked to provide one function. For example, a retailer can link their POS system, which tracks sales, with another process that generates invoices to streamline transactions.
This type of integration would create a silo whose sole purpose is to handle purchases and payments. The user could also link inventory control systems to this connection, as it handles similar functions to sync stock data and gain access to real-time quantities.
Vertical integration has several advantages, including-
4. Horizontal Integration
- Efficient supply chain management
- Enhanced supplier-distributer communication
- Low operating costs
- Enhanced competitive edge
- Better control of functions
Horizontal data integration, also known as enterprise service bus (ESB), can connect several subsystems to one leading software without dealing with interconnections. In other words, this eliminates the links between the various subsystems and focuses on individually connecting them to the central server to simplify a rather complex integration.
So, if there are six software programs, there will only be six total connections from the processes to the primary system. This allows the user to access all electronic data on one comprehensive platform regardless of their individual functions. This easy set-up also saves businesses time and resources needed for software development.
Horizontal integration software is usually found in the medical field where all systems need to be connected, so health care workers have access to patient information, test results, and other relevant data.
Therefore, the most significant advantages of the horizontal integration method are-
- Enhanced operational efficiency
- Increased scalability
- Flexibility with business continuity
- Ability to expand to other technology
- Versatile communication
6 Steps for System Integration
Advanced systems integration should promote productivity, operational efficiency, and be able to expand with a business. Therefore, extensive preparation is required to outline and develop software that can fulfill a company's requirements.
By following six steps, organizations can ensure that their system integrator will seamlessly share data throughout established processes.
1. Outline Business Needs
When determining what integration method would create the best management software for a business, the owner must consider the company's current and future needs.
While it may seem quicker and more cost-efficient to only implement components needed at the time, it may create an issue in the future. As an organization grows, it is vital that the integration solution can accommodate its scalability. If the system is incapable of building, the business must spend more time and capital developing more robust system software.
Therefore, an outline of all potential needs should be drafted and given to the desired IT company to conduct further analysis.
2. Analyze Requirements
From the list of business needs, IT managers will determine what integration processes are ideal for operational efficiency and user-friendliness. An experienced IT company can streamline communication between the business and software development team as well as collaborate design ideas from both parties.
Business management should be prepared to make compromises with the developers, as their company may need more functionality than initially planned. However, adequately preparing for the future can save the business capital in the long run.
3. Design Software Solution
Once the analysis is complete, the developers will begin constructing a base that can withstand all software and subsystems. If the foundation is too weak, the business can face multiple issues, including inflexibility, reduced productivity, and lagging.
Therefore, detailed blueprints are created, which contains the key components, all systems information, and the implementation process. Designing a successful system integrator will promote productivity and streamline data sharing, so it is important not to rush this step.
4. Start Software Development
Perhaps the most prolonged phase in the entire process, developing the integration solution, works off of the blueprint to create the physical software. If the design is adequate, the integrator should be able to efficiently transfer information from the desired systems without losing any data.
Depending on the size of the foundation and the number of connected processes, developing an integration service can take a long time.
5. Implement the Integration System
After the system is completed, engineers test and quality check its functions to ensure that there are no bugs or technical issues. If they experience errors, the integrator is fixed by developers and returned to the engineers for another round of tests.
Once the software passes quality standards, it can be implemented by the business for immediate use. Although the system is designed and explicitly altered for an organization's needs, it may take additional time for employees to get comfortable navigating it.
Once the integrated system is in place, it is up to the business to improve operations by ensuring all employees are utilizing its functions. To optimize functionality results, owners should train staff on how the management system works and how it will increase service speed and efficiency.
6. Perform Routine Maintenance
Implementing an integrator that specifically caters to a business's needs and existing software gives the company an edge over the competition. Other organizations that invested in an all-in-one solution do not have the detailed insight or flexibility that integration systems offer.
Integration services promote business expansion and can grow alongside operations as long as proper maintenance is performed to ensure processes are functioning correctly.
Therefore, if an issue arises, management can simply reach out to the IT team or developer to modify the solution. New functions can even be added if the business decides to implement additional software.
Questions to Ask During System Integration
As a business begins an integration project, there are several questions that management should ask their collaborating teams, including-
1. What is the Best Integration Method For the Business?
Working with the IT department ensures the business is aware of the applicable functions and integration technology that will benefit them. The IT managers will determine what strategies and infrastructures meet the company's needs and have room for further expansion.
2. What Are the Integration System Options?
There are multiple integration options, including B2B, REST API, SOAP, and other custom development, that directly affect the solution's foundation and processes. Therefore, management should seek to understand the pros and cons of different connectors and integration schemes.
3. How Will the System Integration Process Affect Established Systems?
Advanced data integration will provide users with transparency across all platforms so management can quickly access information. If the solutions are inadequate, data from software can be lost and contribute to more significant technical issues.
4. How Will the Integration Solution Enhance Future Processes?
Management should understand that an integration project is ongoing, and therefore should not be treated as a one-time purchase or problem solution. Taking the time to understand the system's versatility and contribution to the company's operations allows the users to utilize its full range of benefits moving forward.
System integration can help gather information across all software within a business, making it easy for users to access data.
By researching the various methods and structures of integration solutions, companies can begin preparing operations for implementation. Successful integration can help organizations enhance workflow, data sharing, and operational efficiency.