Today’s businesses, regardless of industry, are dependent on technology. From Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to back-office systems like accounting and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), companies rely on technology to keep them up and running well.
These individual systems house a wealth of data, including customer information and demographics, sales and production data, personnel data, inventory numbers, and so on. As crucial as this data is to the parts of the business that house it, it can also be important to other areas of the company as well. Accessing information across systems can be done timely and efficiently through system integrations.
What is Systems Integration?
While there are many different ways to implement, system integration – sometimes called data integration – is building connections between previously disconnected systems so that they can share data. Instead of asking for an export of information from one system to import into another, or manually entering data in multiple places, systems integration allows the data to flow or be available between systems.
The value to the business behind this simple concept is extensive, as discussed below. In short, it removes silos between departments and increases a company’s ability to make data-driven decisions.
Integrations allow you to pull data from one system to another, or query one system for data that is stored in another. For systems that need up to date information at a moment’s notice, real-time integrations can be created that allow the connected systems to share information. Other processes may need data updated only periodically (daily, hourly, and etc.), but the updates need to happen automatically, as a scheduled “batch” of data.
How Businesses Use Systems Integration
There are as many use cases for systems integrations as there are companies. These are just a few examples.
Sales integrations- In a traditional sales process, a sales team member accepts an order, perhaps on an order form. That order form has important data for multiple systems. Accounting needs the information so that billing can occur. The warehouse or shipping department needs to know what’s contained in the order. Payroll may need the information to issue a commission check. And the salesperson will want to record the customer data in their book of sales. With a systems integration, the salesperson would be able to enter data once and have the data flow out to each of the divisions with an interest in the order.
Customer service – When customers ask for assistance on their account, they expect the agent they are speaking with to have all their important information available. But if customer data exists in a CRM, while purchase data is only located in the order system, a customer service agent will be slow in getting the customer the help they need.
Financial Reporting – When the finance team is asked to create a report on the financial health of the business for the CEO, it can be a time-consuming task. Pulling together budget data and actuals from various departments, comparing that with balance sheets and against projects, can take days. For many companies, it’s also a manual process, opening it up to mistakes as spreadsheets are copied from one place to another. An integration simplifies the reporting process while also preserving data integrity.
The Pros and Cons of Integrating Your Business Systems
From just the few examples above, you begin to get a picture of the benefits system integration can have on your business. These benefits include:
Improved and accelerated process flow: When systems that are dependent on information from a single source can receive that data automatically, there is no delay in multiple processes being kicked off.
Better customer experience: With a broader view of both a customer, their interactions, and their purchases, employees are better able to help resolve issues, anticipate needs, and provide solutions.
Better collaboration: When data is shared across the company instead of being siloed in a single system, departments can work together more easily because they are working against the same set of data.
Faster and better decision making: With accurate data available from multiple sources, leaders in an organization have a holistic view across the business. Reporting is not only more accurate, but leaders can more easily see how a factor in one department impacts another.
Systems integration sounds like a win-win for everyone, and in general, it is. However, there are a few downsides if a company isn’t careful with its implementation.
Data integrity can be a problem if an integration isn’t planned well. Some integrations will require one system to be declared the “system of record”. This system will be considered the source of truth for the data.
It’s also crucial to define who can read and write data to the various systems. For instance, you won’t want an outlying system to be able to change accounting data, even if it needs to be able to read it. Access control is another area that should be well planned during an integration project.
Security should always be a concern when sharing data. If a hacker gains access to one system, a poorly implemented integration may grant them access to every other system connected to it.
Because of these concerns, companies looking to integrate their systems should find a reliable and experienced partner, like SunNet, to help them gain the benefits while mitigating the risks. For more information on how SunNet can help you with your system integrations, contact us.
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