Written by Chris Toler
Custom systems integration can deliver major benefits for an organization. At the same time, it’s more often than not a very involved undertaking. A few years ago, it was understood that as many as 70 percent of enterprise application integration projects fail, as reported at an EAI Industry Consortium workshop in 2003.
Huge advances have been made in cross-application compatibility since that time. The evolution of application programming interfaces (APIs), for example, has doubtless improved the success of custom systems integration projects.
Still, many of the traditional challenges with custom systems integration still persist today. Many challenges aren’t in fact technical – they’re the issues that human beings run into when taking on complex projects. That’s why these issues are likely to remain core dilemmas for custom systems integrators. So how can you ensure a successful custom systems integration project?
Bridging disparate systems almost always involves addressing the needs of multiple departments. It’s critical to build inter-departmental consensus as to what those needs are – and what the priority needs are. Without clarity around desired outcomes, engineering solutions can become a sprawling process that leads to project overruns. Systems integration is as much an art as a science, and negotiating the goals for the project in advance is key to success.
Part of the art of reconciling different systems and needs is successfully negotiating necessary protections. There may be technical, regulatory or political reasons for not sharing the full breadth of data across all departments. Limiting access appropriately is a critical part of ensuring long-term success for your custom systems integration project.
Information that doesn’t seem important at the outset may prove critical further down the line. As the systems integration project expands, people usually uncover new needs and issues. Your systems integration project can end up looking very different as it moves from the planning stage to and through the development stage.
Change is a constant when it comes to systems integration. New problems and needs often crop up after the project launch. Unfortunately, the skills needed to adequately address them are rare. For most clients, ongoing maintenance and improvements need to be built into the project from the initial planning stages.
The longevity of any custom systems integration is dependent on its ability to adapt to emerging technology. Keeping the system modular and flexible enhances the shelf life of an integration. This equates to better ROI and a happier team over the long term. Insist on looking beyond immediate needs, and plan for change – it’s inevitable.
Written by Chris Toler