Integration can be a complex process that becomes even more difficult without the appropriate tools and practices in place prior to the beginning of a project. Many businesses must consider the requirements and ramifications of B2B integration, address concerns about data exchange between partners and adopt tools to expedite the onboarding process. However, it may also be beneficial for businesses to take a step back and evaluate their own IT architecture.
One factor that can make B2B integration more complex is the level of communication between internal systems. After all, if the data that needs to be shared exists in numerous disparate systems, it will be much more complicated to develop a solution for sharing that information with partners or customers.
The bad news is that a significant number of businesses struggle with integrating their applications, according to a recent survey from Scribe Software. Researchers found, for example, most businesses (74 percent) prioritize integration between customer relationship management software and business intelligence applications. At the same time, only 16 percent of survey respondents were able to claim full integration between these key systems.
"Businesses are struggling to reach the connected enterprise nirvana despite their focus on the importance of core business system integration," said Scribe CEO Lou Guercia. "With the continued move to cloud and complex hybrid environments, the lack of integration between these systems is becoming clearer and significantly slowing business value."
Understanding the integration challenge
These numbers are enough cause for concern on their own, but it is important to understand the overall business impact that a lack of application integration could have. For example, insufficient integration between enterprise programs diminishes data accuracy and consistency - an effect that would likely be felt by stakeholders throughout the organization, ranging from customer service representatives to supply chain management professionals. Other issues that are likely to emerge from systems integration difficulties include:
- Increased difficulty in protecting data
- Longer time-to-delivery for critical data
- Lower value to the customer
While only 10 percent of respondents cited a complete lack of integration among their key systems, partial integration will still result in inefficiencies and limit visibility over critical business processes.
Moving forward with integration
Before investing in new solutions or launching initiatives to solve the issue, it is important for business leaders to ask several core questions that can guide planning, implementation and execution:
- Which applications are already fully integrated?
- What business processes and systems should be prioritized?
- Does the company have the necessary expertise to make an informed solution choice?
- What type of data is involved?
- How can success be measured?
Because this is an issue so many organizations struggle with, it is important to take stock of existing assets and practices before adopting new ones. It is likely that some processes will need to change, but that does not necessarily mean throwing everything away and starting new. Beginning with a thorough evaluation of the existing business environment will reduce the risk that new processes would replace old ones that were already optimized while providing a clear view of which ones should be improved.
It is equally critical to evaluate the organization's needs prior to looking for solutions. This will allow business decision makers to narrow the field of acceptable choices based on features and functionality. From there, it may be easier to determine which solution vendors offer the greatest business value.
Another issue in dealing with the challenge of integration is ensuring that the business has the appropriate talent for selecting a solution - not to mention implementing and managing it. There is no shame in admitting when internal expertise falls short, particularly since there is widespread confusion regarding certain types of integration. For example, TechTarget executive director Jan Stafford recently highlighted the complexity of navigating the integration-platform-as-a-service market. The technology has been touted as one of the most promising application integration platforms the market has to offer, but the potential has so far been diminished by vague value propositions and insufficient understanding among buyers.
"Figuring out which integration situations get value from iPaaS usage is a tough call for CIOs and cloud and application architects today - one made harder by confusing information," Stafford wrote.
As with most technology solutions, some confusion does not mean there is no business value. It just means that companies must be careful to clearly establish why they're investing in one product or service over another. It may be helpful to develop a clear use case for each solution when comparing options, as this would allow decision makers to fit the platform into a more comprehensive IT strategy. In the case of iPaaS, Stafford suggested that it is best served for bringing together a mixture of on-premise and cloud software but not for complex, data-intensive projects.
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