All for one and one for all?

Imagine a large gathering, such as a wedding party. Some of the guests are related but hold old family grudges, some are strangers known only to the bride or groom, and some are groups of old friends of the family who may not have much in common with other groups of old friends. They are together to celebrate the happy occasion, but getting them to put aside their differences and act under a unifying theme at all times may be almost impossible. Wine will be spilled and the last slice of cake will be eaten. So art imitates life in the problem of systems integration – at least to begin with – as we’ll see.

Although it’s a fairly old term, systems integration could not be more important in current and future IT practices. The Industrial Internet, Cloud Computing and the Internet of Things all use systems integration to link together software and systems to work as one integrated whole. This can occur physically or functionally, through programming, process management, enterprise application integration or other means. Leading integrators include Microsoft, Accenture, HP, IMB and SAP.

Bridging the gap between old and new

The challenge faced by systems integration occurs in linking disparate systems (often old legacy systems), which are meant to work without interacting or exchanging information with other data processing systems. Once a bridge has been built between the old and the new systems, and that bridge becomes part of a network with other systems, the entire system is capable of far greater things than the sum of its parts. Processes are simplified and automated, infrastructure is improved and consolidation brings together data centres, apps and data. Integration means IT costs less and performs more.

What happens when it’s your turn?

You’ll be aware of the complexity of systems integration if your business has acquired another, or if your company is looking to integrate and the task has fallen to you to arrange it. Any business that spends time adapting its working processes to accommodate unwieldy apps or make up for gaps in systems management – rather than the other way around – needs to take a hard look at the way IT performs throughout the company. Large organisations with big budgets, such as the US Department of Defence, aren’t immune from the need to pull everything together on an IT level.

Five things to keep in mind when considering systems integration:

  1. Create a strategy that includes every aspect of your IT systems, such as security, networks, data and messaging. By focusing only on point-to-point integration, you’ll risk much greater problems in the future.
  2. Remember that improvement means continual progress. If your cloud supplier decides to upgrade their platform, you may have to upgrade the application interfaces in order to keep connected to the cloud and to your own data. This isn’t difficult so long as you know who will do the legwork, whether in-house or an outside expert.
  3. If you decide to integrate legacy systems, you’ll be providing continuity and minimising the need for costly retraining. But you’ll probably be doubling the amount of support staff for old and new systems, resulting in few cost savings.
  4. If you decide to keep one company’s systems over another’s following a merger, there will be quasi-political factions over that choice. Some users will be competent and others will need to be trained.
  5. If you’re tempted to keep the best of both companies’ systems after an acquisition, be prepared for overlapping functionality – or gaps in provision. You may end up adding new systems to the mix to compensate, increasing training time and costs, but there will be familiar and new things for everyone.

The future of systems integration and what’s in it for you

Among other changes to systems integration is the evolution of new systems to connect with each other. They are being designed for bigger and better purposes, and their limitations are reduced. When systems integration is a success, a business will be able to respond quicker to market changes and the systems architecture itself will support these adaptations. In general, businesses find that the reporting, management and improvement of performance is made easier and it is able to focus on targets without the constraint of outdated IT systems getting in the way of efficiency.

Once a company is able to cut out the inefficiency of incompatible systems and focus exclusively on its goals, it can analyse its methods, weigh up the competition and develop strategies to increase profits. Unintegrated systems are a roadblock that can devastate and derail even the most otherwise advanced business. It just isn’t possible to get the most out of your efforts when you are putting out the fires caused by programs that won’t work together to achieve a common end.

You’ll need a broad and firm idea of what your business hopes to achieve with systems integration, and then pass it on to someone prepared to work closely with you to make it happen. See what One Beyond has to offer on the subject of business applications.