If you’ve done an integration before, you know it’s a fluid process. Once systems are connected, the data flows back and forth, continuously revealing new patterns and opportunities. Although we’d like to “set it and forget it”, the fluidity of integration is ever changing. It cannot fulfill its greatest potential without some thoughtful follow through.
To maximize the value of your integration, you must analyze how well it’s working and plan for its future. This way, if a need arises, you can pivot with ease and make changes faster.
So how does one manage an integration after the initial launch? I’ll explain with these 5 tips for managing system integration over time.
Tip #1: Post-Deployment Review
Let’s focus on two components of a post-deployment review. One component has to do with your users’ growing pains and the other has to do with the integration itself.
We humans are programmed to dislike change. Our patterns are comfortable, familiar, and easy. When we’re forced to alter those patterns, we feel displaced and resistant. So, even though most users will understand the rationale behind an integration, they may not feel fully committed to the change.
It’s important for teams to plan how they’ll address these growing pains and how they’ll encourage users to move beyond them. Team training on the capabilities of the new integration, for example, could help users get excited and allow them to see the benefits for themselves.
In addition to addressing the growing pains of users, the integration itself must also be evaluated over time. Any quality integration project requires structure and a future-focused mindset to succeed. What do you hope this system integration will do? Which specific fields and functions need to connect to make those changes happen? Once the integration is in full swing (usually a few months in) it’s time to take a pause and review – is this integration doing what we expected? Are there still gaps we need to consider? Are we realizing there was something important we overlooked?
A post-deployment review helps teams weigh the performance of the integration against their expectations. If it’s not helping teams work smarter instead of harder, something needs to change so the can integration perform in a way that maximizes everyone’s success.
Tip #2: Document the Lessons Learned
It’s not uncommon for businesses to integrate multiple systems to build transparency across the organization. Of course, these projects are usually done in phases to prevent too much disruption and chaos. Once the first integration is working properly, the next integration comes into focus.
A key strategy for managing an integration is to make less work through proper documentation. After each phase of the integration is complete, the lessons learned and strategies employed should be documented and archived for reference. This can significantly speed up your next project as you not only zip through the groundwork, but also hopefully avoid “rookie mistakes” made during the previous project.
Even if you only plan to integrate your ERP with your CRM, it is good to keep this documentation. Years from now, if you change systems or decide to alter the integration, you’ll have your own reference points to look back on.
Tip #3: Stay Connected to the Experts
Integration partners are valuable resources. They have software-specific expertise and deep knowledge to guide and support your integration journey. That knowledge can (and should) be drawn upon after the initial go-live.
Staying connected to your integration partner can be useful in several ways:
- You’ll have someone with inside knowledge of your business to help with future integrations
- If your needs start to shift or you run into an obstacle, you can turn to this person for help
- If you’re considering a new system, they’ll be able to tell you if it will work with your existing integration
- They can facilitate and manage a data migration if the need arises
- They can offer advice on maintaining data integrity for optimal integration performance
- Some professionals offer free educational experiences and/or training that could be beneficial to your teams
- They can keep you looped in on changes to your products that may affect your integration
Maintaining the relationship with your integration partner doesn’t need to be difficult. Connecting on LinkedIn, following their blog, or signing up to receive announcements and newsletters are all great ways to sustain the flow of information.
Tip #4: Have a Backup Plan
A software company changes their API. An upgrade affects your underlying database. These are examples of unexpected events that could interrupt (or completely paralyze) your integration. How will you respond?
As part of your long-term integration management, your team should plan for these types of events. Your integration partner can offer best practices and ideas for how to protect yourself from a zero-day event.
Of course, no one can predict the future, but having a baseline of how you MIGHT respond could be the difference between an hour of downtime and a complete shutdown. This information can be stored in tandem with your “Lessons Learned” so it’s easily referenced.
Tip #5: Assess the ROI
After using your integration for a year, is there anything still missing? Is the flow of data you originally designed accomplishing your goals? Is your team still struggling with certain tasks or noticing roadblocks? Assessing the ROI of your integration at this point will help you determine if it’s providing the results you hoped for, but more importantly, it may uncover new opportunities.
For example, if you integrated CRM and marketing automation but Support is still slow to respond to social media interactions, social media monitoring may be your missing link. Could integrating your social media with one of these systems improve outreach? Would automated alerts for comments and messages keep the team current on interactions?
If you’re not sure, do some research, talk to peers, and consult your integration partner. The more you understand the problem, the more options you reveal to maximize your investment.
If you’re looking for a long-term system integration partner, StarfishETL’s experienced staff can help you. Contact us any time with your questions!