What Exactly Is System Integration, and How to Do It Right?
Benefit Your Organization by Systems Integration
Let’s explore existing methods and technologies to meld separate pieces of software into a single ecosystem.
As your organization rises, so does the number of software solutions that help it stay organized and efficient. A study by Productiv in 2022 found that the average size of a business app portfolio varies between 22 for small companies and 788 for large enterprises. One of the downsides of having many different platforms or high-tech systems is that complexity grows with every new tool you add.
Moreover, these systems are not always able to communicate with each other, meaning that the business data gets to be spread across software rather than stay in one place. What was purchased to make your work easier now costs you time and money to maintain that many systems.
This scenario certainly, does not inspire. But there is a way to avoid it — system integration (SI). A well-executed system integration process can give your company everything it needs to grow and thrive while lowering operating costs.
Hence, let’s examine existing methods and technologies to meld separate pieces of software into a single ecosystem, touch on key integration steps and emphasize the role of a system integrator in this process.
What Is Meant by System Integration?
In a broad sense, system integration definition is about connecting various subsystems or subcomponents into a coherent infrastructure that functions as a whole.
Regarding software solutions, SI is generally defined as bringing together different IT systems, services, and software to enable them to work together functionally. While physical components include all the hardware modules of a system, virtual elements consist of all data stored in software, applications, and databases. Therefore, combining them is a complex process that requires a deep understanding of the software and extensive knowledge of various technologies.
According to a recent survey by Grand View Research, the global SI market is expected to reach nearly $955.21 billion by 2030. In comparison, the IT systems integration industry was valued only at $234 billion in 2015. Integration services accounted for more than 40% of global IT spending.
This growth is not surprising. Indeed, IT infrastructures in almost every sector (finance, logistics, banking, energy, healthcare, retail, and government) are fragmented ecosystems consisting of ever-evolving protocols, formats, outdated infrastructure, and the newest technology (cloud, SaaS, mobile apps, and services) and data usage models. When these solutions aren’t aligned, the result is often lost productivity, disconnected data, and even security issues.
System integration allows organizations to align their technology ecosystems for the self-governed exchange of information between different subsystems. The integrator acts as a mediator in this environment, broadcasting data from various sources in the technological stack. Without an integration strategy, employees would have to manually migrate data from one domain to another.
What are the Goals of System Integration?
Businesses are adopting system integration primarily to ensure that all systems work harmoniously together to increase productivity and improve the quality of day-to-day operations. But integration systems simplify communication between an organization’s internal systems and third parties. In addition, it helps speed up the flow of information and reduce operating costs. Let’s take a closer look at the goals of system integration.
Automation and Optimization
One of the most considerable outcomes of the SI process is that data sampling and processing become much easier, and all relevant and correlated data is combined. If the system integrator you hired does well, your business processes will be streamlined and automated thanks to perfectly tuned data links.
Securing multiple systems or relying on software solution providers creates additional risk for your business. In addition, point-to-point integration can also create security risks when patch updates occur and systems become incompatible. With one system, you can easily build in the security tools you need to prevent unauthorized users from accessing and protecting customer and company data.
An inefficient system means slow performance. Communication delays and siled data greatly reduce the organization’s ability to act quickly. Integrated systems eliminate these bottlenecks and reduce the need for unnecessary movement, which leads to increased efficiency throughout the organization.
The value of an integrated system is that it eliminates repetitive tasks, allowing them to be performed more efficiently using the same resources. Additionally, a single store does away with the necessity for many stores to hold the same data. Each subsystem’s specific data can be stored there, and any data overlaps can be systematically categorized.
A separate storage or computing platform for each subsystem requires excessive cloud resources. It is needed to enhance the capacity of each subsystem separately as the amount of data grows. This duplication cannot occur in an interconnected system.
All subsystems can use shared resources as needed. If your business operations are growing in computing or storage, you can easily request additional resources from your cloud service provider. So, one of the main advantages of integration is its potential to scale.
Accuracy and Consistency
The system integration process often entails gathering data from several sources and storing it in one place. After the integration, there is no need to wait a long time for data to be manually synchronized between various systems. Instead, all other systems immediately update the data when one subsystem modifies it. Real-time data access will be the result of global system integration.
What are the Four Types of System Integration?
Many companies use more than one type of software and benefit from combining them differently, depending on their needs. Let’s look at the different kinds of system integration they can leverage.
Integration with Legacy System
Legacy system integration involves connecting modern applications to existing or legacy systems. That often involves using APIs, webhooks, and common connectivity components to align existing investments with new tools. This process modernizes legacy systems, facilitating a seamless communication channel with the latest technological solutions and information systems.
Integration with Enterprise Application
Enterprise application integration combines various subsystems in a business environment. Different enterprise application integration types include point-to-point and vertical or horizontal integration. The goal is to merge multiple application features into a single environment. For example, integrating enterprise applications can lead to a one-stop HR platform that combines ERP, inventory management, and accounting tools.
Integration with Third-party Systems
When integrating third-party systems, the focus is on extending the functionality of an existing tool or software. It is often a popular choice among companies looking to upgrade the functionality of their technology without investing in an entirely new platform. For example, integrating third-party systems in a collaboration marketplace might involve direct routing to offload telephony services to an application such as Microsoft Teams from a communications provider.
With B2B integration, companies focus on automating transactions and document exchange across multiple companies. The goal is to improve collaboration and trade with partners, customers, and suppliers. For example, cross-enterprise integration may involve connecting a retailer’s existing purchasing system to the supplier’s ERP technology to create a more consistent network.
What Are the Five System Integration Methods?
Choosing the right system integration solution is a challenging task. You must select the right subsystems, the right places, and the right nature of the relationship. To do this, you as a company must determine what processes are involved, and how they interact with all stakeholders and business objectives.
That’s why having experts, such as IT professionals from Jelvix, on your side is important. We work within the legacy systems you already utilize and deploy a hybrid integration platform to help your business boost the value and productivity of your daily operations. Our integration solutions can use all five integration methods:
Method 1: Hub and Spoke Integration
This type of integration deploys a “cartwheel” design, where each subsequent system has a single integration point (“spoke”) with a centralized storage, “hub.” The hub serves as a message-oriented middleware converting all messages from all connected apps into a single canonical data format language and assuring that these messages are routed properly to their correct destination.
Method 2: Vertical Integration
Vertical system integration differs from other types of system integration in the form of structure. Each subsystem is related to the other based on how closely they are described in the function they perform.
This results in a “bunker” structure, with the bottom being the most basic feature and the rest becoming more and more complex. This type of system integration is quite simple and involves a limited number of systems, but it can be inflexible. Adding any new functionality means adding your own “store,” ultimately making managing difficult.
Method 3: Star Integration
Also, when this system integration method connects each system to the rest of the subsystems, the connections can look like a star. But a real system integration diagram will likely look like a spaghetti plate (hence star integration is also named spaghetti integration).
In other words, a perfectly neat IT infrastructure quickly becomes cluttered and hard to display if a company approaches software integration using this method. It can provide much more functionality than a single point-to-point connection, but managing integrations become very demanding.
Method 4: Horizontal Integration
Horizontal integration refers to achieving system integration through one particularized subsystem as a common user interface layer that links all other subsystems. The number of required connections is reduced because the subsystems are not directly connected; they are connected indirectly through the main system.
For example, three subsystems will have only three connections. The cutback in the number of connections required to maintain functionality decreases the time, effort, and funds spent building the system. That middle layer/subsystem utilized in system integration is well-known as the Enterprise Service Bus.
Method 5: Common Data Format Integration
This method can be realized by creating a new data language that will be a universal format used by all subsystems to process and transmit data to each other. That will help eliminate the need for more than one adapter per system and subsystem.
All subsystems communicate and act independently, one of the main advantages of common data format Integration. However, this method has a drawback in that it is very complicated and necessitates advanced coding abilities.
Approaches to Connect Systems
There are different ways to communicate between separate systems. Let’s briefly examine the most frequent “connectors.”
- Webhooks, or HTTP callbacks, are real-time messages transmitted from one system to another when a specific event occurs. For instance, accounting software may receive web-based transaction notifications from payment gateways or online banking systems.
- Application programming interfaces are the most widespread way to link two systems. Sitting between apps and web services, they transfer data and functions in a standardized format.
- Electronic Data Interchange, or EDI, exchanges business information in a standard electronic format that substitutes paper documents. EDI is typically done in two ways: via a value-added network, where a third-party network is responsible for data transmission, or directly via the Internet.
- Orchestration combines repetitive processes to improve production and information flow. Orchestration systems provide automated system integration and task scheduling across multiple solutions. Users can connect to any service to access data, automating various programs and processes.
- Middleware is a hidden software layer that unites distributed systems, apps, services, and devices. It performs various tasks such as data and API management, messaging, or authentication. The cloud middleware can be accessed through the API. In such a case, an API gateway could be considered a middleware between services and systems.
These connectors can be combined and used to create complex system integrations. Companies with unique needs and requirements should choose custom system integration solutions like APIs, webhooks, or orchestration.
What is the Role of System Integrators in a Nutshell?
The role of a system integrator typically includes all aspects of developing, implementing, and testing a company’s solution.
The system integrator provides data integration between various existing systems of the end customer. At this stage, system integration often involves accessing the customer’s business needs and determining the technical requirements for a system or set that meets those needs. Sometimes, the system integrator handles the service, for example, constantly manages solutions and contacts third parties to allow connections. Most importantly, the system integrator offers an experience that an in-house customer can need.
What are the Required Stages of System Integration?
Now that we’ve covered the different system integration types and methods let’s examine the process.
- Requirements definition. The first step in system integration is to define and express expectations for integrated systems to the system integrator. You must ensure that all stakeholders know how to use these integrated systems to the best of their ability.
- Feasibility analysis. Once you have outlined your requirements for the future solution, you should conduct a thorough investigation to determine if it is operationally feasible.
- Architectural design. This stage is devoted to developing a strategy for integrating the various components into a cohesive system that functions as a whole. System integrators prepared integration blueprints to help both parties visualize the process.
- Management plan creation. After the architecture has been made, the management team collaborates with the relevant groups to create an integration timeline, identify alternatives, and calculate potential risks.
- Integration project. It is the most time-consuming and difficult of all the SI steps because it involves actual integration. The system integrator implements the existing system integration based on the architectural design to prevent valuable data loss.
- Implementation. Once the integration process is complete, systems are reviewed and tested for errors and bugs. Any bugs found are corrected, and operational testing is done again to ensure the integrated system is bug-free.
- Maintenance. Possibly the most overlooked step, scheduled maintenance is also one of the most important to keep a new integrated system running smoothly. Both system integrators and system users should take responsibility for conducting routine diagnostics to detect new bugs and report any problems to the IT team.
Best Practices for a Smooth System Integration
Here are our top-five practical tips for successful systems integration from our system integration engineers:
- Find the simplest working solution. The KISS principle (Keep it simple stupid) states that most systems work best if they stay simple, which also applies to integration.
- Monitor and control everything. You know the importance of monitoring if you have ever worked on an integration or any large-scale system. There is nothing worse than a system or process failure that you are not even aware of. Ensure your system integrations have monitoring and viewing/notification capabilities that alert you to losses. Also, make sure your monitoring is detailed enough. By looking at the notification, you would know what went wrong, why, and how to fix it.
- Work in small batches. Opt for a few small integrations rather than large and complex ones. Simpler and smaller integrations are often more potent and create fewer dependencies than huge, complex solutions.
- Keep maintenance and improvement in mind. A simpler solution is easier to maintain, and smaller parts are easier to improve and debug. Make it easy for the person who will keep your system, whether you or someone else. That will save you time, money, and effort.
- Choose the right tools for the job. When choosing a set of tools to implement an integration system, ensure that you fit within your budget and that your team’s skill allows them to be used. If you understand your requirements, it will make choosing a toolbox much easier.
- Automate where possible. Repetitive and tedious tasks can be performed automatically on time (if system integration companies implement them correctly and thoroughly tested). When you automate a process, you eliminate the need for human interaction, thereby minimizing the possibility of human error.
Our client challenged us to automate processes, simplify working with numbers and large amounts of data, and reduce the impact of human inattention on the process. The customer’s business processes had confusing logic and complex calculations. We had to optimize them and provide the following:
- a single interface for employees and third-party services;
- a system of access rights;
- high security;
- simple communication and reporting;
- the ability to identify and prioritize transactions;
- automation of repetitive tasks.
As a result of the work of the Jelvix team, the customer received an application covering all stages of the client’s business. This app provided a simple and secure interface for employees, allowing them to get the job done faster and easier to interact with each other. All these improvements optimized business processes and sped them up by 1.5 times, ultimately increasing profits.
A serious benefit of system integration is that you don’t need to develop a new, expensive, or massive structure from scratch when you realize the need for interconnected software systems across the organization. Instead, you can hire system integration engineers to integrate existing systems to make them work smoothly. That will save you money, time, and effort that would otherwise be wasted training employees to implement the new system.
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