Why is Systems Integration Important?
System integration solutions are important as they can provide your business with the connectivity to overcome any software or hardware challenges that may arise. In this post, we explain all you need to know about systems integration, including what systems integration is, why systems integration is important, and the benefits of integrating systems in business.
What Is System Integration?
While many businesses opt for the ‘best’ of each type of software they use, these systems are not always able to communicate with each other, meaning that the business’s information is scattered across software rather that in one place.
System integration brings together component sub-systems into one functional system and ensures that all components work together in harmony to preserve productivity and accurate data analysis. Typical information exchanges include customer information, orders, production line information, customer inquiries, and many more.
Why is System Integration Important?
System integration facilitates communication between often disparate systems that do not normally communicate. This process can boost the speed of information flows and reduce operational costs, resulting in improved productivity and quality of operations. Some of the other benefits include:
1. Information Appearing Quicker
Before integrating systems, it is common for organisations to rekey the same information into multiple systems. This makes the flow of information within the organisation very slow. Information is often backed up, awaiting rekeying on a scheduled basis. One of the main benefits of system integration is after automatically integrating systems; critical information is more quickly available throughout the organisations. This allows for faster decisions to be made.
2. Consistent Communication
It is common for information to become inconsistent between systems if they are not integrated. For example, one system may be updated with a customer’s new address, but another system may not get the update. Integrating these systems eliminates the confusion that inconsistent information creates and keeps the correct information clear.
3. Saves you Money and Hassle
Integrated systems allow you to leverage your investment in them. Instead of replacing several existing systems with a single, large, expensive new system, you can integrate your existing systems at a lower cost and not go through the (sometimes painful) process of implementing a whole new one.
4. New Essential Insights Available
It is common to establish a business intelligence (BI) system as part of systems integration. This can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or something more sophisticated such as Microsoft Business Intelligence. The BI system can aggregate data from various systems to give an overall view of your organisation. This can give you insights that would have been missed, thus making your organisation more competitive.
5. Contributes to Sales Increases
If you are looking to boost your sales, data connectivity across departments can help your customers and encourage them to purchase what they have sitting in their baskets. Not only is a clear line of communication available to customers, but systems integration solutions can give customers access to the data that is most useful to them, making the buying process for them much easier. This means customers can effectively see what is in stock, how much is in stock, and how long it will take to be delivered to them. Transparency is a very effective tool when it comes to a customer deciding on whether to purchase an item, making systems integration a very valuable tool for any online sales process.
Types of Systems
- Management Information Systems
A management information system is concerned with internal sources of information, inputting data from internal transactions, files and structured data.
- Decision Support Systems
These systems are designed to aid management to make decisions or predictions about the result of a decision when faced with uncertainty.
- Transaction Processing Systems
This type of system processes key data to support your operations management team to process routine transactions accurately and efficiently.
- Batch Operating Systems
A batch operating system does not directly interact with the computer and can work offline. The operator sorts similar jobs into batches.
- Time-Sharing Systems
This system is also known as a multitasking system. It functions to allow more than one user to use the same computer system at any one time.
- Distributed Operating Systems
A distributed operating system shares data processing jobs across multiple interconnected computers using a shared communication network.
- Network Operating Systems
Network operating systems allow servers to manage several aspects of networking, including groups, users, security applications and other networking functions.
- Real-Time Operating Systems
These systems are used when there are time requirements, and ensure that the tasks of a system take place when necessary.
Basic Steps to System Integration Solutions
1. Identify Enterprise Software and Applications in Use
There are different computer systems for different services, so make sure you know which applications are used in each department of your company, from sales and marketing to manufacturing. Once you have a complete list of platforms and what your team requires in terms of features and functionalities, you can map this into expectations for your new integrated system.
2. Determine How Your Software Programmes and Applications Interact
Once you know how each platform interacts, you can improve the communication between yourself and your development team. It can also provide insights as your team begins to construct your new integrated system software.
3. Create a Systems Integration Project Plan
You want to ensure that all components work together in harmony to preserve productivity and accurate data analysis for your team. If you are planning to retain any third-party platforms, make sure that your system integration developers build around this. Finally, make sure that your sensitive data is not compromised when transferring data between platforms.
Ensure that your new integrated system solution is verified and tested, and any bugs are fixed before you use it so that you can experience the benefits from the get-go.
Look after your new system with regular updates and bug fixes whenever required.
Internet of Things’ Integration With Your Back-Office Systems
As organisations grow, their back-office systems often become a little unstructured; it starts innocently enough with the odd spreadsheet here and there, and maybe an access database. Then, a few Cloud-based web systems get added for various business operations, a CRM system here and there, and maybe a couple of SQL Server databases. Before you know it, you have a multitude of individually great systems that don’t play well together.
Then, you decide to create an Internet Of Things device that needs to pull data from or write data to this knotty mess of computer systems. How can this be achieved? That’s where the Internet Of Things integration with back-office comes in.
A Single Version Of The Truth
From an IoT device, it is important to establish a single, authoritative version of the truth. This could be a single, definitive version of the customer’s address, an order history for a client, or some other critical data that you hold in various systems. Since you want to focus your resources on creating your new IoT devices, you probably don’t want to spend a lot of time and money re-engineering your back-office systems.
Service Integration Approach
One solution that has benefited our clients is to start to implement a new set of “services”. These are technological components that sit on servers and pass data between computer systems. Suppose you have customer order data stored in multiple systems (a CRM system, an accounting system, an operations system, etc.) In that case, you can create a new “service” that integrates the data from these places and presents a single unified view to your Internet Of Things device.
Equally, this new service integration can be the broker that receives updates from your Internet Of Things device and pushes the update out to your various back-office systems.
We like to call this “plumbing” work. It’s very useful and critical for success, but we want the complicated pipes to be hidden out of the way, so the rest of the business can focus on turning on the taps or having a shower!
Cloud Storage for IoT
If you are wondering where you should host your new services, you could look at the Cloud. The Cloud is a flexible, scalable, low-cost method for running services and storing data in a low-maintenance manner. It’s like having your own personal data centre that expands and retracts quickly depending on your needs.
In the old days, you had to purchase servers, cooling and expensive IT support staff. Sometimes you would under specify the servers and sometimes you would over-specify. Using Cloud storage for IoT means you can spend less time “keeping the lights on” and more time innovating with your IoT device. In summary, you can host in the Cloud to provide fast, resilient, predictable services for your Internet Of Things devices.
How to Connect IoT Device to Cloud
There’s a basic Protocol that can be applied to connect an IoT device to the Cloud. However, the Protocol that is used at each layer depends on your priorities and what device you’ll be connecting. Either way, there needs to be a two-way communication system at each stage.
The transport layer, which is the layer where device-to-Cloud communication occurs, takes place over a choice of two channels; Transmission Control Protocol (TPC), or a User Datagram Protocol (UDP). Generally speaking, TCP is used to ensure that no data is lost during the communication, and UDP is used when it’s not necessary for all the data to arrive.
HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the most widely used Protocol at the application layer. With the help of TPC, a send request can be sent to the server, and responses returned, allowing data to be successfully passed between the device and the Cloud.
Of course, sometimes for practical reasons, you can’t host all of your services in the Cloud. Some of your back-office software may be old and difficult to connect to the Cloud. Or, you may face security restrictions that limit your ability to Cloud host. In this scenario, you can create a hybrid system where some of your services are hosted in-house and some in the Cloud. You may even have a Cloud service fronting up a service that is hosted in-house. No matter whether you choose the Cloud or a hybrid system, the goal remains the same: create a single version of the truth using services which are reliable, fast and predictable.
If you’re considering moving to Cloud-based storage, check out our blog which explains the main services in Cloud computing.
ERP System Integration
We start with the best of intentions. We’re going to manage this new service, product or project using a simple spreadsheet. It won’t be complicated, as we’re going to put it on a shared drive so we can collaborate, until a number of varying factors that weren’t initially considered pop up:
- Someone needs access offline.
- The data needs to be shared with a couple of suppliers in a different format.
- Someone inputs the data incorrectly.
Before you know it, you’re drowning in spreadsheets.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) system relates to the back-end functions that support a business. The software is a system used to automate business. As these systems are organised in a centralised hub, this makes workflow and data sharing across departments much easier. Further, an ERP system can automate some manual processes.
Types of ERP Systems
- On-Premise ERP
An on-premise ERP system allows more control and more security, compared to a Cloud-based ERP system. However, this type of ERP system requires an upfront investment, longer implementation time and ongoing maintenance, making it less efficient in the short-term.
- Cloud ERP
A Cloud ERP is hosted on a third-party Cloud computing platform. The benefits of utilising Cloud-storage are lower costs, due to lack of hardware investments, and accessibility, allowing your workforce to access files from wherever they are working. However, despite cost savings when using a Cloud ERP, you may sacrifice control and security.
- Bespoke Software
Systems integration ensures that your ERP software connects to your other systems to maintain workflow efficiency. You could have an all-singing, all-dancing ERP system to run your whole business. Then three months down the line, you’ve had to reorganise your previously efficient business processes to accommodate this computer system, now finding that you’re doing more data entry than ever before. Worst of all, although this system does do everything, it may do some things inefficiently and at a very basic or even poor level. In that case, investing in a piece of bespoke software, developed in a Lean and Agile manner, may be more favourable to your organisation.
Bespoke software is software that’s written just for your organisation. It is completely written from the ground up to match your business processes, so it adapts to you, not the other way around. Bespoke software is likely to be a lower cost than an ERP system. Your bespoke software will belong to you, so you don’t have to pay heavy annual license fees.
- Defining Bespoke IT System Integration
“Lean” means you can build your Minimum Viable Product. This is the smallest, simplest piece of software that you can think of that will meet your needs. Forget the bells and whistles! That is just complexity that you don’t need.
“Agile” means that the software is upgradeable as your business changes. Instead of hitting a brick wall, you can have a can-do attitude and software to drive your organisation’s success in an ever-changing environment.
Integrated System Solutions
McKenna Consultants have integrated many systems over the years. We specialise in creating Digital Platforms that create a “plug and play” system that allows the software to exchange information with any other software, within an organisation.
Our client Wolseley was drowning in spreadsheets a few years ago, but with the help of our IT system integration solutions, they were able to overcome the struggle. The one positive of overcoming any of the above situations is that you’ve probably done a good job of defining your business processes, either as a result or before any new systems. Now, it’s just the implementation of those processes in IT form that is holding you back, which is where a software integrator is needed to merge everything together.
IMI Precision Engineering
At IMI Precision Engineering, we created a Digital Edge Platform that integrates their Tacton configuration system with their JD Edwards ERP system, communication systems (Mandrill, etc.), and shipment tracking systems (UPS).
For other customers, we have been able to integrate their existing legacy in-house developed software into a new digital platform. This allows them to incrementally replace the legacy systems with new systems, plugging into place to replace the old.
What Systems Can I Integrate?
There are different categories of systems that can be integrated between the two systems. These are listed below with examples of each system.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Salesforce, Pivotal, Microsoft Dynamics
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
- SAP, IFS, JD Edwards Enterprise One
- Procurement Systems
- Ariba, SAP
- Configuration Systems
- Accounting Systems
- Sage, Microsoft Nav
- Document Management Systems
- Digital Paper, eValue, SmarTeam / Swiftify
- Customer Enquiries
- Cadenas, KissMetrics, WordPress, LiveChat
- Office Software
- Microsoft Office 365, WOPI API
- Marketing And Email Systems
- Mandrill, Pardot, Silverpop
- UPS Tracking
- Product Management
- Identity Management
- Auth0, Okta
- Software As A Service
- Toggl, Jira, Microsoft AI Services, Microsoft Business Intelligence
- Payment Systems
- PayPal, Payment Express
- Custom In-house Software
System integration solutions are all possible with an incremental build approach and without incurring expensive licensing fees.
Integrating systems in business is important for improving your company’s efficiency. Our dedicated team of bespoke software development specialists, are always on hand to help. Or, if you would like to learn more about the other bespoke services we provide, please contact us via the form below.