Business integration is one of the big buzzwords in today's corporate environment. As organizations grow and new technologies and solutions are brought on board, being able to develop a coherent strategy that covers all areas of the business can be the difference between success and failure.
It will be up to the IT department to ensure such initiatives are carried out effectively. IT is the connective tissue that links together every business activity in today's digital-first environment, and as such, it’ll be up to these professionals to ensure the technology they provide is effectively serving the needs of the entire organization and driving value.
This may be a big change for many companies, where IT has been seen as playing a more supporting role. But stepping up and helping move the business forward should be a priority for any chief information officer in today's environment. After all, it's a digital world, so why shouldn't you be leading the way?
Here's what you need to know about creating a business integration strategy, and why you should be doing this.
What is a business integration strategy?
The first step is to ensure you fully understand what a business integration strategy is, and it can sometimes seem like rather a vague concept. Essentially, a business integration strategy involves synchronizing technology and culture across the organization and ensuring the tools you offer to business units can support their goals.
But it's about much more than simply integrating technology systems to make data sharing and access easier and more consistent. An effective strategy will help you enable a much more effective business process management system. This involves a deep analysis of what an organization is doing and how it's doing it, allowing users to identify and execute improvements and more accurately measure their effectiveness.
Why you need a business integration strategy
One of the biggest issues for any large business will be containing and managing sprawl. As firms grow, they add new departments and systems that may each have their own ways of operating, from how they collect information to how they use this data to guide their decision-making.
With so much data, in so many formats, spread over so many business units, the result can often be a lack of coherence in strategies, where some parts of the company don’t know what other parts are doing. This leads to wasted and duplicated effort, higher costs and an overall loss of productivity.
However, with the right business integration strategy, firms can operate much more smoothly. By bringing together systems as diverse as supply chain management and customer relationship management tools, you make your firm more flexible, more cost-effective and more able to meet your goals.
4 key benefits of an effective business integration strategy
Business integration can offer a wide range of benefits to a business - if the implementation process is conducted properly. Some of the main advantages you can expect as a result of such an initiative include:
1. Better access to data
Integrating and consolidating the vast amount of data businesses possesses means that personnel will have better access to information that would in the past have been siloed off in other departments, with no clear way to access or move data between systems.
2. Improved productivity
In turn, easier access to data means employees don’t have to spend time tracking down data, moving it into their own applications, and filtering out irrelevant and duplicated information. Instead, they can put this time to better use on activities that can drive direct value for the company.
3. Real-time visibility
Being able to get a comprehensive, real-time snapshot of what's taking place across the enterprise enables employees to make better-informed decisions based on hard data, rather than relying on gut feelings and instincts. Additionally, it allows staff to quickly and accurately monitor the impact of any changes, allowing them to be more flexible and change direction if an initiative is not delivering the expected results.
4. Reduced costs
Integrating data stored across various applications and departments into a more simplified environment will also mean you can do away with many of the bespoke applications and legacy systems that may have been around for many years and replace them with faster, more cost-effective alternatives that are better equipped for the demands of today.
Key steps to develop a strong solution
This may all sound great, but actually putting it into practice can be easier said than done. As is the case with any major IT project, there’ll be a lot of moving parts to contend with, while stakeholders from various parts of the business will undoubtedly have their own opinions on what your priorities should be and how best to achieve them.
Therefore, it's vital to have a clear, comprehensive plan for implementing a business integration strategy that everyone can get on board with. With this in mind, here are a few key steps you can't afford to overlook:
1. Choose the right technology
There are a wide range of software tools available that aim to make business integration easier, but not all of them will be suited for every situation. Just because your main competitors may be using a certain platform, this doesn't mean it’ll also be right for your needs.
To identify what option will be best suited, you need to know where your priorities lie. Where are your biggest inefficiencies right now? What gaps need addressing? By creating a checklist of which requirements are most essential, you can quickly determine which options are best-placed to meet your requirements.
2. Make your people the priority
Even the best technology solutions will be ineffective if employees can't or won't use them properly, so it's vital to have a plan in place for explaining the changes to your teams. This should begin with a clear description of why you're embarking on the process, to ensure everyone is on board with the objectives, as well as a comprehensive training scheme to ensure they’re using the tools as effectively as possible.
This should take employees through the process step by step, from introductions to any new technology to follow-ups to ensure the lessons have been sinking in. You should also have a clear support structure in place, so individuals always know who to turn to should they have any questions or problems.
3. Keep governance and compliance in mind
Any time you're making changes to how business data is stored, processed and shared, there’ll inevitably be compliance and regulatory considerations to bear in mind. Therefore, you'll need to document well in advance exactly what requirements you'll have to meet and have a plan for testing and monitoring the operations.
Designating a single individual who can take control of data protection issues can be a good way to achieve this, as it ensures there’s one point of contact with responsibility for meeting privacy and security regulations. They can also take charge of governance practices - that’s, ensuring that everyone involved in the process is fully following the plan and meeting their obligations.