Automating your processes can help your organization improve efficiency, decision making and agility. But taking that first step can be daunting, especially if you have had a bad experience with similar projects before. To help you run a successful integration project, we have put together some tips from our experience of working with thousands of companies, big and small, across a wide range of industries and applications.
Getting started internally
Get your integration project off the drawing board and set the foundation for a successful project with these tips below.
1. Define the business case
To get a mandate from management and the budget/resources required to start an integration project, first define why you need the integration and how it will contribute to your organization’s goals, whether that is profitability, service delivery etc. Examples include savings from less time spent manually entering data; better records allowing you to pursue more sales opportunities; or responding faster to staff shortages. Try to put a figure on the financial benefits of automated processes.
2. Think business process first, technology second
Don’t worry about the technical solution at this point, your integration partner will do that for you. Instead, focus on how your business operates, for example what are the processes you do manually today; what new processes would streamline your business; and where are the bottlenecks. The technical solution should always be focused on achieving your business goals.
3. Set realistic timeframes and milestones
After getting everyone excited internally about how the systems they use will magically ”talk” to each other, nothing frustrates management and staff like missed deadlines! To avoid this, allow yourself (and your integration partner) realistic deadlines and milestones (read more in Development tips in part 2 of this article).
4. Assign one project owner internally
Integration projects often involve several departments and staff, each with their own views and input. Assign one person as the owner, with an overview of the project, it’s high level goals, and the authority to make decisions when there are different opinions. This will help keep momentum in the project and simplify communication with your integration partner, as the project owner can collate feedback from all parties.
Making the specification
Creating the specification for your integration partner is probably the most important step, as this is the ”blueprint” they will work from.
1. Involve people from all relevant functions
When defining how the integration will work, it’s important to get input from the different areas of the business the integration will affect. For example, if you want to automate sales from your CRM system into your ERP system for invoicing, you should understand the needs, wishes and processes in both the Sales department and the Accounts department.
2. Include people working daily with the systems
While management will have a top level vision of how the business processes should run, it is often the people using the systems everyday that know most about the practical issues involved. Their input on how processes can be streamlined, and any obstacles or routines that need to be taken into account, is invaluable.
3. Be detailed in your specification
You don’t need to map each and every field in each application (your integration partner should know much of this from experience) but in general the more detailed you are about how processes should work, and any particular data that is required, will help your integration partner build to your requirements. Like a map, the more detailed it is, the easier it is to follow, and the less margin for error, misunderstandings and missed milestones.
Choosing an integration provider
Obviously we can recommend an integration partner for you 😉 but no matter who you choose, here are some issues to consider that might not be obvious.
1. Cheapest not always the best
As the adage goes, you get what you pay for. Budget is important, but if the business case is valid (see Getting started, above) then it should be easy to justify doing it right. Depending on the price structure of your integration partner, the most important cost is the annual fee for maintaining the integration. Ideally, this should be predictable so you can confidently budget for year 1,2,3 etc.
2. Experience from similar integration projects
Experience is key when building integrations. If your partner has done similar projects with similar applications, it will make it faster and cheaper for you, they will be able to anticipate technical issues that might not be obvious, and build an integration that supports the processes you’re trying to automate.
3. Provide ongoing support
Building an integration is one thing. Supporting and maintaining it afterwards is another. Applications change, your requirements may change, and sometimes things can go wrong. Make sure your integration partner supports the work they have done for you, otherwise it can be very costly to get another supplier to fix or re-build the integration for you.
We’ll publish the second part of this article in a week, looking at how to manage the Development and Going Live phase of an integration project.
If you’d like to discuss an integration project with us, please send us a message.