Systems integration is one of the most important projects a business can run. We look at key considerations for anyone starting the process, and the role of data mapping in its success.
What is systems integration?
Systems integration is a process designed to create a co-ordinated, joined-up operation. It’s about combining different sub-systems or apps into a more efficient whole. These sub-systems might be out of date, assembled from different vendors or simply no longer fit for purpose.
Projects range in size and complexity, integrating data and information within and between companies. When you carry them out effectively, they have multiple business benefits including:
- connecting systems so they function better as a whole
- improved efficiency or productivity
- reduced costs or saved time
- enhanced information sharing
- better data analysis
- adding value for customers
Consider these three factors before you start
It’s a big decision to begin a systems integration project, even if you know your company needs one. They’re complex, challenging and time-consuming, with plenty of pitfalls to avoid. Here are a few considerations to take into account.
- Plan well and ensure you have the right resources
Will you be able to complete the project successfully? You need to think about time, money, and people. Not just the number of people, but the right kind in terms of experience, knowledge and skills. Make sure stakeholders from across the business input into these decisions so that you meet all objectives.
As part of your planning, consider the go-live date carefully. If you’re dealing with accounting systems for example, you might want to avoid the financial year-end. Or, if you sell physical products, steer clear of peak order times in case of ordering or payment problems.
- Choose the right integration method for your needs
There are many different methods of systems integration – star, vertical, horizontal, third party – which we won’t go into here. Whatever you choose, it should be based on your company’s unique requirements, so it pays to research them carefully.
And, the method must be flexible and scalable. You’ll want to adapt to future changes, like software updates or additional processes, as your company develops.
- To migrate or integrate, that is the question
Are you moving your data to a new system (a one-time update) and leaving the old one behind? Or, are you integrating legacy and new systems so they work together and constantly talk to each other? Do you need your data to flow only one way, or back and forth?
Think about whether you need to integrate all your sub-systems. Maybe some could be dropped with no ill effects, or replaced with better versions.
Data mapping is essential
Data mapping matches the fields in one database to those in another. So you can’t do a systems integration without it. Although the good news is, you don’t need to be a software developer for this.
There are three main ways to map data:
- manually by coding – OK, for this you’ll need a developer but you do gain a lot of control over the process
- partly automated – you do need some coding knowledge, but software does most of the work in connecting the data before a human reviews it
- fully automated – software does it all for you
Effective data mapping may help identify business opportunities
Ineffective mapping can create mistakes like duplication of data, causing confusion and – ultimately – poor customer service. Effective data mapping improves the visibility of your data. Knowing exactly what’s happening helps you make informed decisions and spot opportunities.
Create a flow diagram to show how data moves through the system
A flow diagram is part of a good data map. To create one, follow these six steps:
- Define – agree what data needs to be moved, and how often. Ensure you’ve got a complete data set
- Map – match source and destination fields
- Transform – code rules to transform the data fields so they receive data correctly
- Test – try a sample of the data before rolling out the changes to the whole system
- Deploy – go live
- Maintain and monitor – keep an eye on the data map; it will need updating as new data sources are added or the destination system changes
Example of a flow diagram
We can be your systems integrator
At Cocoon, we provide a complete solution for your integration needs, from consultation to implementation. As specialists we help you manage data connectivity, whatever the project, using the process transformation package BusinessOptix, which incorporates Connections, our data-integration platform. Contact us for a free, no-obligation chat.
Case study: Triumph’s systems integration solution
Data mapping formed part of a successful project we ran for Triumph Motorcycles. Triumph was replacing its systems integration solution, and needed to ensure financial and operational systems worked together efficiently. Check out our customer case study.