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How to determine if your organization needs application integration

Who is a good fit

If your organization is pursuing or undergoing digital transformation, you may need application integration.

In this article, we’ll answer the following commonly asked questions:
  • What is digital transformation?
  • What is application integration and when is it used?
  • What kind of application integration solutions should I seek?
  • Who is NOT a good fit for application integration?

What is digital transformation?

Digital transformation is a process of making changes to your digital systems with the goal of improving efficiency and productivity within your organization.

Digital transformation might look like:

  • Converting your paper systems to digital systems
  • Implementing new systems
  • Upgrading your existing systems

You may be considering application integration as part of your digital transformation if you are:

  • Passionate about making changes within your organization’s processes and systems, in order to improve efficiency and workflow
  • A team leader on a mission to elevate your team members and increase productivity
  • A voice of expertise within your organization

If you are making changes to your systems, you may need your applications integrated. Integrating ensures that the correct data is available to your users once the transition is made. Specifically, your applications may need to be integrated if:

  • Your users are transferring files back and forth from email chains or spreadsheets, updating the same information in several systems
  • Your users have difficulty accessing data
  • Multiple departments are performing similar data functions in multiple systems
  • Information needs to be shared across departments and systems
  • You have a substantial volume of work that requires manual steps (e.g. approval or data re-entry)

What is application integration?

Application integration is a process of retrieving and connecting data from different sources so that the same data can be accessed across multiple systems. 

If your organization is undergoing digital transformation, your applications may need to be integrated, so that your users have access to the data they need.

Read our article How to integrate your systems to learn more about the process of application integration.

The goals and processes that you want to automate through digital transformation can be readily understood by business users.  The parts that are often difficult to specify are the integration requirements - specifically around data sharing, creation and update, and data quality requirements.  Here are some things to consider to determine your integration requirements:

  1. Data used and shared: Think about which data sets you use regularly as part of your business processes that might be. Examples could include: addresses, customers, assets, employees, vendors. Some specific questions to consider:
    • What’s the specific use of this data set in your business?
    • What does this data set need to do?
    • Which of these data sets are shared throughout your department, or with other departments?
    • How is this data made available or distributed? (i.e., which applications leverage this information?)
    • Which data sets do you make use of that come from other branches? (This might include spreadsheets, databases that you query, applications that you log into, or data that is copied by some process.)
  2. Data creation and update: Consider which data sets you add or update records to?  How much time is your organization spending on redundant data entry? Some additional questions to think about:
    • Who creates the data?
    • Who updates the data?
    • How and when does this occur?
    • Do you use specific applications or processes to do this?
    • Do you delete data or mark it as inactive/invalid? What goes into this decision and action?

  3. Data quality:
    • What data quality issues are common?
    • How do these impact your operations and reporting?
    • How do you currently identify and fix data issues? 
    • Do you have specific quality measures that the data needs to meet?  

Once you consider how much time your users are spending on things like redundant data entry and manual processes, you’ll have a better idea of how integrating your applications can impact your bottom line.

If you’ve determined that integrating your applications could be a worthwhile investment for your organization, we’d be happy to provide you with a free consultation.

We frequently work with organizations who:

  • Have complex workflows
  • Need to connect multiple systems
  • Need to connect niche, specialized systems
  • Need help solving data problems related to business processes
  • Use legacy systems (i.e., systems that are no longer supported or updated)
  • Use Enterprise Resource Planning (or ERP) systems such as Tyler Munis, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics and SAP.
  • Use Work and Asset Management Systems such as Asset Essentials (Brightly) Cityworks, or IBM Maximo.
  • Use Customer Relationship Management (or CRM) systems such as Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics.
  • Use Community Development systems such as Accela, AMANDA, and Cloud Permit.

What kind of application integration solutions should I seek?

There are various types of solutions available on the market, each serving different purposes.

Some common solutions are:

Point-to-point API integration

  • One-way data exchange, synchronizing information between two sources
  • Systems sharing data are directly connected to each other via specified data points
  • Triggering action (e.g. new record) and an if/then/else evaluation

Integration platforms (message broker, hub and spoke, enterprise service bus, publish-subscribe)

  • Multi-system data exchange, exchanging information through a centralized platform
  • Data mapping specification to translate data fields from one system to another
  • Support complex workflows
  • Often contain data validations or other business rules

Custom code

  • Used by organizations who staff an in-house development team
  • Integration is managed and maintained internally
  • Read our Build vs Buy article here for an in-depth look at use cases for custom code

Who is NOT a good fit for application integration?

OK, it sounds great... but integrating applications may not be the ideal solution for every organization. Here are some reasons organizations may not need, or choose not, to integrate:

Smaller organizations

If your organization uses a small set of systems and has fewer users, you may not need or benefit from application integration. While the convenience of integration can improve efficiency and quality of work, the cost is likely to outweigh the benefit to smaller organizations. Application integration cost benefit typically starts at 3 systems that need to exchange information.

Paper systems can also work well if your physical space is small enough that walking to someone’s office to hand them a paper document does not measurably impede workflow.

Highly sensitive data

Sometimes, data is highly sensitive. Our contracts ensure that an organization’s data is treated with utmost privacy and integrity. Our company and staff sign legally binding agreements to maintain confidentiality of customer data. That said, if your organization is unable or unwilling to provide third-party data access, you may wish to consider a custom code or build approach.

Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR)

After conducting a thorough cost-benefit analysis, you may determine that the cost of application integration outweighs the benefits.

Current systems are efficient

If your organization is able to maintain efficiency, productivity, and growth within the parameters of your existing systems, there is probably no good reason to integrate systems.

Sufficient resources or preference for a Build (in-house) approach

Some organizations prefer to oversee the integration process themselves rather than subcontract it. An in-house (or “Build”) approach can help mitigate risk and maintain control and consistency throughout the project. 

Read our Build vs Buy article here for an in-depth look at use cases for custom code.

If you’ve determined that your organization needs application integration and you’d like to learn more, we’re happy to provide you with a free consultation.

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