*Duey Yliniemi is vice president, product strategy and development, at Feed Management Systems. He leads the company's product strategy and development teams with overall responsibility for product vision, development, marketing, design and engineering. Yliniemi can be contacted at email@example.com.
TODAY, information technology (IT) professionals are tasked with having to make disparate systems work together because competitive pressures and the e-business environment demand it.
The good news is that business data integration, when done effectively, can help reduce risks and costs and create a more agile business.
The bad news is that integrations can be time consuming and expensive if not planned carefully and implemented with the proper technologies.
The key to executing effective integrations is a good integration strategy that aligns with business strategies and initiatives. Building and implementing an integration strategy will require an investment -- one that can be measured and validated against your business objectives.
In this article, I will provide some things to consider when building an integration strategy, when purchasing solutions and when measuring the return on your integration investment.
Building a strategy
A business integration strategy should focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of key business processes and, ultimately, reducing the time and cost of managing information and IT resources. It needs to include improving the quality and timeliness of information and providing information on demand where it is needed, regardless of where the information originated.
This cannot be achieved by implementing integration technology on a project-by-project basis without an overall strategy of how it all fits together. In addition, your integration strategy will not be accomplished with a single project.
The problem is that business integrations are inherently complex. Different types of projects will require different methods of integration and different technologies.
For example, the method you use to exchange information with batching automation systems may be different than the method you use to provide on-demand information for customers or suppliers to view account balances, check the status of an order or place a new order.
It is important to look for solutions that are built to support all of the integration methods that your business requires.
Solutions for integration
The need for up-to-date information that is accessible from almost everywhere requires that IT departments find solutions for integrating diverse, heterogeneous applications that were developed in different architectures and programming languages and on different platforms. They have to do this quickly and cost-effectively, delivering robust solutions that are maintainable over time while still preserving existing investments in solutions and architecture.
For all of those reasons, solutions built for integration are a high priority for many technology executives.
Business solution integration will not come in a shrink-wrapped box. It is unlikely that a single product or technology will fulfill your holistic integration strategy. However, a variety of established technologies and options in the market today are cost-effective, secure, reliable for communicating across platforms and maintainable over time.
Service-oriented architecture (SOA) helps organizations more easily transform their business processes for high performance by simplifying the underlying information systems. SOA enables organizations to respond quickly to new business imperatives, develop distinct new capabilities and leverage existing services for true responsiveness. Through SOA, business and IT are more closely aligned.
Old architectural approaches that once expanded business opportunities now limit growth -- but existing systems cannot simply be replaced. SOA gives existing systems the flexibility and agility to respond to a business environment that is changing rapidly.
It should be obvious that a successful business integration strategy needs to provide a higher return on investment, at least partially by decreasing the total cost of ownership over time.
The strategy provides a guide to reduce costs on tactical projects while laying the groundwork for business agility and future projects. Because of this, it is essential to create metrics for measuring the effectiveness of the strategy.
There is an old business adage that you cannot manage what you cannot measure. While there are some common metrics such as return on investment and cost:benefit ratios, the best metrics at this level are those that are tied directly to the business strategies and initiatives specification.
Inefficient data integration can cause communication between the different departments to become clouded and slow. It can drag down efficiency and affect customer service. Measuring this can be difficult, but consider, for example, the number of orders not completed on time and in full; this could be a result of poorly integrated systems.
A reduction in overall costs by producing leaner and more efficient systems is one of the most visible metrics. Reduced costs within business units that utilize alignments to new systems should also be considered.
Often overlooked is how integrated solutions can increase revenue opportunities and lower maintenance costs. A totally integrated business allows you to scale and focus on high-value business objectives.
Make sure to revisit and revise your integration strategy as business strategies change. Well-integrated systems can help your business adapt to continually changing requirements and regulations, improve customer service and form tighter relationships with customers and suppliers.