Integration 101: Why Do Integration Projects Fail?

Why do integration projects fail? That’s like asking “What is time?” or “Where does space end?”.  There are many potential answers. Various factors contribute to successful integration projects, but it only takes a few missteps to botch up the whole thing. While the reasons behind integration failure can stem from multiple issues, most businesses encounter some “repeat offenders.” Let’s explore the most common reasons why integration projects fail.

1. Lack of Defined Scope

An integration project should set clearly defined goals, achievable in a set timeframe and within an allocated budget. Start an integration without these definitions and you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s easy for a company to begin an integration project with a “vision”, but all too often the shiny objects still get in the way. Suddenly questions are raised about adding customizations and extra features that weren’t previously discussed. Now, the project timelines are altered, the budget is strained, and the team is confused about what to expect and why.

Scoping issues can be prevented in a few ways. First, have an honest, well thought-out conversation with your integration partner. If you describe the results you’re looking for, your partner should have the expertise to help you build the scope necessary to achieve them. Internally, assign a designated member of your project management team to monitor scope throughout the integration and alert the rest of the team and your consultant of any issues. If changes to the initial scope MUST happen, document them in an issue changelog and review that log periodically with all parties. The best approach to changes or additions is waiting to tackle them in phase 2 of the project, after the initial scope is fully vetted.

2. Lack of Proper Error Handling

In a perfect world, all integrations would run without issue. The reality, however, is that errors are inevitable. There are too many factors at play when you’re connecting two different systems with their own APIs, encryption processes, etc. It’s critical to have an error handling process in place to manage these issues and prevent slowdowns or even a complete stoppage of the project.

So, what steps are included in a proper error handling procedure? At minimum, teams should log events in an error report, define an error correction procedure, and trigger messages to the correct operators to handle any manual resolutions. Setting a restart point is a good safeguard to prevent total loss if something catastrophic should occur. The best error handling strategies automate the functions of error reporting, triggered messages, and other administrative tasks. If you have a BPI solution, it should include the ability to handle such processes.

3. Underdeveloped Internal Team

Integration projects affect every member of an organization – top level executives, IT staff, sales and marketing teams, etc. That is why it is so important for various members of these teams to actively participate in the project. Underdeveloped  teams only inhibit the full potential of your integration. Plus, without input from all departments, the day-to-day use cases for customer interaction and retention could be overlooked.

As is true with any major business change, it is up to the executive team to drive cooperation and buy-in as the first line of support in an integration project. Without this leadership, other departments will disregard the importance of the project. From there, the IT staff is next in line to lead. An IT Director or CIO can offer insider perspectives for the integration partner to better understand how the data is used and how it affects the company.

However, the level of employee involvement doesn’t stop there. Sales, services, and marketing departments will be affected by the process changes and new data available through the integration. Select members of the sales, marketing, and services departments should sit on the internal integration team as well. Usually, a management-level individual is chosen to represent his or her department for this role.

4. Poor Data Quality

You’ve heard the phrase before – garbage in, garbage out. Data quality is the underrated all-star of a successful integration project. Good data feeds accurate reporting, improved productivity, targeted forecasts, and many other positive business outcomes. Any integration project between any two systems should always begin with a data audit and data cleaning process. Get rid of your duplicates, outdated information, and incomplete fields first to position your integration for success.

5. Lack of Integration Expertise 

Very few organizations have an IT staff with the manpower and technical prowess to perform an in-house integration. Many believe they can figure it out, and some do, but not without a major investment in time and resources -- and a lot of preliminary failures. Successful integration requires more than technical knowledge and expertise. It also requires a deep knowledge of the project’s complex requirements and the foresight to recognize how the integration will affect business processes. It’s important to find an integration partner who can bring these valuable skills to the table and offer suggestions for how to transform processes to meet the changes.

6. No Long-Term Strategy

What happens when the integrated systems are upgraded? Will the integration adapt? If the company wants to integrate with other systems, will the current integration setup allow for it? These are the types of questions to ask your integration partner as you undergo an integration project. Integration is a long-term solution and as such it needs long-term strategies to define it. If your integration requires a highly customized solution, that adds another layer to the complexity. Work with your integration provider to define any potential pitfalls for the lifetime of the integration and future-proof it as best you can. Things won’t always go perfectly, but with a forward-focused mindset, you can work together to anticipate some avoidable pitfalls.

7. No Cross-Platform Functionality

Depending on your line of business and your data requirements, your information could be scattered across multiple platforms. The best way to avoid issues between these platforms is to make sure your integration solution is functional across them all. The solution should be able to integrate in multiple ways: Cloud to Cloud, on-premises to Cloud, Cloud to hybrid, on-premises to on-premises, hybrid to hybrid, etc. If the combination exists, the integration should be able to handle it. If it doesn’t, it’s time to start looking for a new integration solution.

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