Which System Integration Method Best Suits Your Organization?

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Thursday, November 4, 2021

What are the pros and cons of systems integration solutions, and what methods should you be considering?

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Which System Integration Method Best Suits Your Organization?
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As your business grows, you'll quickly find different personnel in various departments each have their own needs when it comes to IT. Sometimes this may mean certain applications are only used in specific parts of the business or - particularly if you've been through a merger or acquisition recently - you have separate systems that perform similar tasks.

But for businesses to function at their maximum potential, data needs to be shared across systems and departments. And when teams are relying on tools with limited interoperability, the seamless transfer of information is difficult to achieve.

This is when having a system integration strategy can prove highly useful. This consists of a set of tools that facilitate the sharing of data across multiple systems to create a single, cohesive infrastructure.

The benefits of system integration

Deploying a system integration solution can offer a wide range of benefits to a business, helping bring together mission-critical tools including customer relationship management software, supply chain management platforms, HR data, marketing communications and enterprise resource planning applications.

Some of the key advantages of system integration include:

  • Improved productivity. Being able to access data across multiple systems saves a great deal of time and effort that would otherwise be spent tracking down information and ensuring it's in the correct form.
  • Reduced risk of error. If information is being moved across systems manually, this can give rise to a range of data entry errors. By eliminating these tedious processes, you can be sure your data is accurate and up-to-date across all applications.
  • Reduced costs. Time translates directly into money, and every minute your team saves on data management tasks can be devoted to activities that generate revenue.
  • Better customer service. Having the right data at your fingertips when it's needed greatly improves how you interact with customers or suppliers, as they won't be kept waiting while you hunt down the information you need, or have to pass them around to multiple people to find the answer to their query.

Potential drawbacks to be aware of

While there are many positives to be gained from deploying system integration solutions, there are also disadvantages. While in many cases the benefits will far outweigh these drawbacks, it's vital you're aware of them so you can monitor these systems and take any mitigating action.

Among the issues you'll need to keep an eye on are:

  • Security risks. With so much sensitive and business-critical data being handled by the solutions, this can present a tempting target to hackers. As such, it's vital you put in place the strongest protections and ensure these are kept up-to-date.
  • Upgrade complexity. While integrations will allow data to flow freely between applications, each system still needs to be patched and upgraded individually. This can quickly become complicated when ensuring continued operation of the integration, requiring significant time and human resources.
  • Initial outlay. Although maintenance and improved efficiency can reduce long-term costs, it can be expensive initially to put in place all the systems and connections needed to fully integrate applications across a business, so you need to be prepared for significant capital expenditure at the outset.

Four system integration methods to consider

If you’ve decided that a system integration is right for you, a critical step is determining how you go about this. Here are several options available to achieve this, each with their own pros and cons that may make them more or less suitable for the needs of an individual organization.

1. APIs

Application programming interfaces (APIs) will be among the most familiar technologies for system integrations. Built to connect and enable interactions between applications, APIs offer great flexibility and can usually be plugged into a system without disrupting any third-party software. However, they’re vendor-dependent, so you'll need your supplier to create an API that matches your needs, while they’re also code-based, so a strong understanding of programming is a must.

2. Webhooks

Webhooks work by sending messages between systems when an event occurs. For example, if an interaction is made on a payment gateway, the relevant data is then sent immediately to accounting software to ensure it's kept up-to-date. These use automation to ensure users can access data in real time.

However, they do offer more limited control over data. Webhooks require the service to trigger a data transfer when an update is made, whereas APIs can let users create or alter certain data without triggering a transfer.

3. ISC

Like webhooks, Integration Services Components (ISCs) aren’t code-based solutions. Instead, they operate on a server and connect directly with local management tools. This allows the system integrator to access data easily and use information for almost any purpose. However, you'll need an in-depth knowledge of your database structure to set them up, while they also require backend access to your applications, which won't be possible with many third-party applications.

4. Orchestration

Orchestration systems offer a highly automated solution for system integration that combines multiple services to synchronize data in real time. By using software configuration management tools such as PowerShell to build orchestrations, you can adopt a range of methods to connect with applications and manage the automation workflow.

As a fully-automated solution, these handle all processes for you, meaning less day-to-day management, and can handle multiple systems at once, which make them useful for large forms with complicated IT environments. However, they can be quite time intensive to set up due to the complex scheduling workflows involved, and require you to have strong coding skills.

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