Blog: What to Know When Planning System Integration
In this article, we'll cover:
- What is System Integration?
- What is the Purpose of System Integration?
- System Integration Methods
- Overcoming Software Integration Problems
- How to Eliminate System Integration Issues & Complexities
To anyone in the IT sector, the worth of a centralized network is considered invaluable.
And the demand for a complete software system integration solution is clear and, well, tremendously valuable.
According to a recent study by California-based market research and consulting company Grand View Research, the global system integration (SI) market is expected to hit nearly $530 billion by 2025.
To put that in perspective, the IT system integration market was valued at $234 billion in 2015. That signifies a boom, with the market set to more than double in just a 10-year span.
That projection isn't all that shocking. After all, IT infrastructures in just about every industry (banking, financial institutions, logistics, military, telecommunications, and healthcare, retail, energy, and government institutions) have become a disjointed ecosystem comprised of varying and constantly evolving protocols, formats, legacy infrastructure and modern technologies (cloud, on-premise, SaaS, and mobile applications and services), and data use patterns.
Ultimately, what systems integration software/systems integration solutions look to solve is each and every unique IT problem with customized and seamless ways to connect modern environments with legacy infrastructure.
What is System Integration?
System integration is defined as the process of operationally connecting separate computer systems or software applications into a single larger system, allowing each solution to functionally work together.
See an example of an integration process flow below:
In this system integration diagram above, you can see external trading partners communications and eCommerce data from Walmart, Target, Shopify, Amazon, and Magento being connected to Acumatica, a back-end ERP solution, through the use of an integration platform.
What is the Purpose of System Integration?
In short, the objective of integration is to put a puzzle together. There are scattered pieces of an organization's information subsystems that need to fit together into one well-coordinated, cohesive architecture or integrated application mesh. It's a complex building process that connects an organization's functions from varying systems, streamlining disparate systems, including existing hardware, software (customized or out-of-box), and communications.
The value of an integrated system is an organization improves working relationships with customers and partners while increasing work-flow efficiency and lowering operational costs for the business. A system integrator can do this through business process management, computer networking, enterprise application integration, and/or manual programming.
Implementing a modernized, B2B integration software platform infrastructure provides multiple benefits and moves businesses into a future-ready state. Before you decide on an integration platform, it is important to understand the different types of system integration.
System Integration Methods
Nailing down suitable integrated solutions isn't exactly simple. But selecting the right parts to deploy and the precise location to deploy them depends on how well a company, as well as its partners and vendors, understand the necessary processes, security needs, resources, and business objectives. In turn, proper alignment with the business delivers better value from integrating scattered systems, applications, services, and software.
However, solutions are more than just vertical and horizontal integration. Here are four key system integration examples:
1. Vertical integration
What is vertical integration? The vertical integration definition under the construct of system integration is a process of connecting unrelated subsystems as one functional unit with each subsystem benefiting from another. This vertically integrated concept is also known as creating "silos," wherein each layer or element works upward. The simplest and fastest method only comprises a handful of vendors, partners, and developers to begin with, but over time, then expands as the process evolves and attempts to include newer functions to meet further business requirements.
Let's briefly consider a vertical integration example in radiology. A Radiology Information System (RIS) tracks results and orders as a Picture Archive and Communication System (PACS) preserves the image. This is where the term "silo" comes into play since the system is tightly integrated to serve a specific and narrowly defined radiology business function, holding the data in one place without coordinating with other siloes.
Some advantages to vertically integrated solutions are:
- Efficient supply chain coordination
- Streamlined vendor communication
- Enhanced competitiveness
- Greater control of processes
- Lower operating costs
2. Horizontal integration
What is horizontal integration (aka enterprise service bus (ESB))? The horizontal integration definition under the construct of system integration is more than a one-off process. A specialized subsystem is assigned to communicate with other subsystems. This integrated method also involves the creation of an application layer to allow programmatic connections between various applications and to the ESB. In turn, it becomes a systemic system integration.
Some horizontal integration examples can be found throughout the healthcare sector, helping to simplify integrated medical systems. Through customized development, ESB integration interfaces can effectively work with customer systems generating data or requiring data movement and integration. There is usually seamless communication to provide business rules and policies for HIPAA standard compliance. The ERP functionality can be extended by also implementing EDI software, managed file transfer (MFT) tools, and application connectors to transfer, transform, and integrate data originating across numerous systems.
Some advantages to horizontally integrated solutions are:
- Higher operational efficiency
- Scalability for dynamic workloads
- An incremental or phased approach to SI
- High Availability for business continuity
- Expand to include additional technology
- Versatile communication capabilities
3. Point to Point Integration (Star Integration)
What is point to point integration (aka star integration)? The definition is in the name. Star integration relies on the point-to-point method of integrating system components. When this system integration method interconnects each system to the remaining subsystems, the series of connections can look like star polyhedron. Although, the presentation of the diagram as a whole can look messy and interwoven like a plate of spaghetti. In other words, the whole neat and tidy IT infrastructure becomes quickly disorganized if a company approaches SI through point-to-point integration.
An example of star integration is if a company segments its processes. A separate accounting system would track finances; a web analytics system manages website traffic, and a customer resource management (CRM) system would integrate Salesforce. Data from each system could be pulled and combined as needed.
Thus, star integration is simultaneously the simplest and most complex version of SI. Currently, star integration is often employed outside of a comprehensive technology strategy. For instance, point-to-point integration may be used to meet the data analytics needs of a specific business unit in sales or marketing while going unchecked by IT.
While the integrated star system cost is unpredictable, as integration fees and deployment time can skyrocket when subsystems export heterogeneous or proprietary interfaces, there are some limited advantages to this integration method, including:
- Quick application feature implementation
- Deployment flexibility
- Simplicity (granted there isn't much IT scale)
4. Common data format
What is a common data format? To effectively ensure reliable and accurate integration, most financial, accounting, customer management, and storage applications require specific and often singular data formats.
A high-performance integration solution establishes a common format to remove the reliance for an adapter to translate between various application formats. An enterprise application integration (EAI) system provides an application-independent data format and data transformation service, helping to alter between a common format and an application-specific format.
An example of a common data format is converting zip codes to city names by merging or dividing objects from one app or database to another.
- Seamless data translation
Key Questions for Overcoming Software Integration Problems
Asking the right questions before creating an IT system integration strategy and laying out system integration project steps are both critical to creating an efficient path to the finish line. Here are a few questions to keep in mind:
1. What is the correct integration strategy for a company?
- Don't try to fit a square peg in a round hole. An IT department must justify an integration recommendation to benefit vital B2B technology. Avoid forcing something to extract functions and capabilities that are missing. Make sure a modernized IT infrastructure is ready for a system integration method that includes data, application, business-to-business (B2B), and legacy infrastructure. Planning appropriately with the right vendor offers multiple benefits.
2. What integration interface options are offered?
- There several connector choices (B2B/EDI, RESTful, SOAP, Web Services, custom development, etc.), and these options impact implementation, infrastructure, and design. Think about the pros and cons of things like vertical integration vs. horizontal integration. Make sure the vendor explains if the interface solution will be complex or simplified.
3. How will this integration process affect current systems?
- An integration vendor should have full real-time visibility into an IT infrastructure from the very beginning and before a project is even started. As explained earlier, a disjointed ecosystem comprised of varying and constantly evolving protocols, formats, technologies, and data use patterns can often cause a domino effect.
4. How will this integration project affect future processes?
- Implementing a new project likely won't be a one-off venture. Take into account the scalability of the business and IT ecosystems as well as what system integration offers the best flexibility, versatility, and upgrade options going forward.
No doubt, there are a ton of moving parts when it comes to centralizing an organization's physical and digital IT infrastructure. The very thought of taking on a project to solve integration and data movement challenges can seem overwhelming and complex.
But the fact is, with the direction digital transformation is headed, not aligning and modernizing cloud, API, and B2B technologies will ultimately just add complexity on top of convolution. Luckily, approaching system integration with the right strategy can simplify it all.
How to Eliminate System Integration Issues & Complexities
Development teams and IT departments are no doubt wrestling with myriad new and existing applications, as they embark on a digital transformation strategy, many with different architectures and payload formats. A single integration platform, however, can provide the ability to connect and centralize the best-of-breed systems and applications that enable business processes and tackle software integration challenges.
- Consolidate Disparate Applications
Rather than continuing to rely on disparate, legacy, and outdated systems, modernizing your IT environment allows you to streamline communications while gaining more automation, control, and visibility, which strengthen those partner relationships.
- Built-In Connectors for the Most Common Applications
A centralized platform comes pre-loaded with applications, SaaS, and EDI integration connectors to power an enterprise, whether it's on-premise or in the cloud. The right solution allows you to customize and integrate applications to suit your business needs without any additional scripting.
- Automate Common Business Processes
Automation saves time and money by replacing manually initiated processes with software that reduces errors, enhances your work and process flow while lowering expenses and improving efficiency across the board.
- Reduce Dependency on Customized Solutions
Remaining dependent on customized solutions also means you sink more up-front costs into your tools, and it requires developer sources that have inherent risks, as well as needing developers to communicate throughout the software development cycle.
- Free Up Valuable Resources for Other Projects
By automating the majority of your business processes, your precious IT resources to spend valuable time on other core tasks. A digital transformation strategy means that time-consuming projects are no longer a burden on employee resources and bandwidth.
A Truly Scalable Infrastructure
Companies must modernize their IT systems to achieve not only IT agility but business agility as well. The shift to digital requires companies to have more flexibility on their front-end applications so that companies can say "yes" to their customers, while also requiring more agility on the back end to connect and orchestrate data.
Whether you are adding a SaaS solution to help drive business outcomes, moving large amounts of data into a cloud integration platform, or your business is a service organization that thrives on delivering faster responses to customer requests, you rely on integration to make data flows work. Regardless of what kind of business you do, you need a scalable infrastructure to support any-to-any hybrid integration, data transformation, fast and secure file transfer, and end-to-end visibility of all the data flowing through your dynamic ecosystem.
The Cleo Integration Cloud platform helps businesses all over the world eliminate the system integration issues and complexities that hinder IT modernization projects. The solution enables business and IT agility to accelerate ground-to-cloud and cloud-to-cloud integration processes to easily connect applications, and storage and business platforms, integrating your entire ecosystem.