New decade, new data strategies. With 2020 upon us, it’s time to think to the future – how will business evolve in the next 10 years? Are you prepared for those changes?
More and more businesses use large data sets to analyze trends and predict future events, so every company should be considering strategies for increasing data accessibility and visibility. If you’re planning to integrate systems in 2020, here are a few tips for success – and a few mistakes you should avoid.
Tip #1: Pinpoint the Pains
Deciding to integrate is a proactive step forward, but it will only succeed if the project is undertaken thoughtfully. Which business pains are drawing you towards integration in the first place? How complex will the integration have to be to remedy these pains?
Understanding the bigger purpose of the integration will help you select an integration solution that aligns best, therefore making it more likely that you’ll succeed. There are many types of integration solutions out there, and once you’ve pinpointed your pains and laid out your desired results, it will be easier to determine which is right for you. Here are the three major types of integrating solutions you’ll need to assess:
- No-Code Integrations: These are light weight, what-you-see-is-what-you-get types of integrations. No-code integrations are often less expensive and easier to implement due to their drag-and-drop nature, but they lack customization power and some deeper functionality. If you’re planning a very simple and straight-forward type of integration, this solution could work for you. But, if you need to maintain fields and functions unique to your business model, a no-code solution may not be enough to get the job done.
- iPaaS Integration Tools: A good iPaaS tool takes the best features of no-code and enhances them with powerful scripting for more complex data transformations. iPaaS is more dynamic than no-code, so it can be used to customize your business-exclusive fields or functions. iPaaS is also highly scalable, which makes it more desirable for the long term.
- Custom Integrations: Use custom integration as a last resort for an extremely intricate project. Custom integrations rely heavily on complex code, which makes them difficult to maintain, upgrade, and expand. These obstacles make the custom integration more expensive over time and can become more of a hassle than a help.
Tip #2: Get a Project Manager
An integration is like a house – if the elements aren’t arranged in the correct order, and the builders aren’t united behind the same vision, the house could topple. A project manager keeps the integration moving in the right direction using technical knowledge and experience to build a solid foundation.
He or she acts as the main contact person for each team member and is responsible for keeping everything on track to ensure nothing slips through the cracks. Using a project manager takes the pressure off your internal team to stay on top of schedules and meetings that affect progress. One person in this role, with the primary objective of advancing the project and keeping team members looped in, will vastly improve the organization and speed of your integration.
Tip #3: Be Prepared to Pivot
Integration is a marathon, not a sprint. The pace must be steady because of the numerous elements at play – the complexities of the systems, the expectations of the team members, the ways the integration will alter current processes and data sets, etc.
Going into the integration, it’s crucial to plan where you want each field to map between systems, and to understand the resulting affects those moves will have. Planning is a key for success, but even the best laid plans sometimes need to pivot. As you move along in your project, you may uncover some new adaptations you didn’t see before.
Who will the changing processes affect? Make sure all relevant team members are included in the conversation. For example, if you’re integrating CRM and ERP, you should ask for input from your financial and sales teams to make sure the approach makes sense for how they work. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to pivot.
Input from your software partners could also result in some pivots. Your CRM, ERP and other vendors know their systems and your customizations intimately, so they may provide some critical feedback that could alter your approach.
Tip #4: Start with the Data
Connected data won’t help you if it’s inaccurate.After planning, the critical first step of any data project is to make sure you’re working with clean data. Outdated, duplicated, inconsistent data needs to be removed from the systems before the integration can occur. Your Project Manager will help your team assess the data to determine if it’s “bad”.
Sometimes bad data happens because users are inputting the data inconsistently. So, the substance of the data is valid, but the format is problematic. For example, one user may be entering Blvd. as an abbreviation for Boulevard, whereas another employee may be spelling it out. When you’re trying to filter the data for an integration, this can turn into a logistical nightmare.
Once you identify the issues and realign the information, the secondary step is to put guidelines in place to prevent bad data in the future. Work with your integration team to establish a set of ground rules for data input and maintenance to maximize the long-term success of your integration.
Tip #5: Future-Proof It
Integration is meant to be ongoing. As your business grows and evolves, your integration should be able to adapt. A big part of its ability to adapt depends on how scalable and dynamic the architecture is. If the integration can’t expand with your business, you’ll find yourself revisiting the same obstacles every few years. What happens when the systems are upgraded? Will the integration be able to adjust as it is built today? What if you want to extend your integration to other systems as well? Can the solution scale easily to incorporate more of your business solutions as the need arises?
It’s important to ask questions like these to your integrating partner so you understand the capacity of your solution. If there are issues, it’s better to uncover them early on and find the workaround before it turns into an emergency.
3 Integration Mistakes to Avoid
After all your careful planning towards a successful integration, you don’t want to get sidelined by a silly mistake. Avoid these three common mistakes to stay on course.
Mistake #1: Lack of Testing
Ongoing monitoring and testing ensures the integration is functioning properly as you move through the phases of your integration. If errors occur, you’ll know right away and can remedy those issues before moving on to the next piece. This will support your timeline and avoid a catastrophic failure to the integration. The project manager can help decide the testing strategy.
Mistake #2: Unrealistic Objectives
Make goals achievable and timelines reasonable. If you have a lot of customizations or an enterprise load of data, you can’t expect overnight results. Integration is an extensive process and you must match your expectations to the gravity of the project. When the integration is complete, it will all be worth it.
Mistake #3: Building a Custom Solution from Scratch
As mentioned earlier in this post, a custom solution can sometimes be problematic for future-proofing your integration. Scalability, maintenance, and upgrades may all be in danger if you build your own integration.
Whenever possible, the best option is to get help from experts who can work off a pre-existing system and customize from there. Reinventing the wheel will not only cause you a headache and slow the pace of your integration, but it could potentially even disrupt your businesses’ ability to complete work in the meantime. Don’t mess around.
For advice on your next integration project, contact us. We will assess your data goals and help you find the right approach for integration success.