Real time interview: Jeff Sinason, CTO, on the business value of integration.
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
Jeff, thank you for taking the time while on the ground to chat with me about integration and its value to businesses. We started An Integrated Business because we saw the value in companies of all sizes integrating the applications and information that run their business.
For example, our recent client, a construction company, struggled to provide timely budget information to their project managers and wanted to make sure they responded to updates on the project budget and spend as expenses came to the company.
As you know, we thought the use case was a simple one. The client wanted to have their project budget reports updated as new expenses were entered into their accounting system, in this case, QuickBooks. It turned out not to be as simple as it sounds as we considered other changes to the expenses entered, such as updates and deletes.
It brings to mind what companies need to consider when looking for integration solutions to help improve their business, exceed their business objectives, and beat their competitors.
Question: Jeff, as companies look to integration, are there some “obvious” business opportunities that companies should investigate to deliver the most value?
Answer: When companies are looking at integration, they have to truly understand the business values and opportunities. They need to understand the roadblocks they encounter that interfere with their ability to make more informed and timely decisions. The key to integration is to allow companies to find ways to operate in a more timely, cost-efficient manner while increasing the quality of their delivery. It’s the old “Faster, better, cheaper” thinking. In the past, we assumed that you could only accomplish 2 of the three items. In today’s world where companies are able to leverage the expertise of cloud service providers who focus on the delivery of “best of breed” solutions. Companies of all sizes can now leverage these solutions to truly achieve “faster better cheaper” solutions
Question: As companies look for integration opportunities, it seems one of the key issues often overlooked is who needs access to the integrated information? Would you agree? And any pointers as to how to assure secured access to the right people?
Answer: Integration has always impacted security requirements. Understanding these requirements is often a complex undertaking. This is especially true in certain industries where access to data is heavily regulated and in areas where exposure of data to unauthorized players can have severe financial impacts. Regardless of the size of the company and the integrations that are being implemented, a thorough analysis of the security requirements is necessary In today's world, this also involves understanding the delivery mechanism since various delivery channels (mobile, web, API) are likely to require different solutions to assure data and system security.
Question: So, a company has chosen the business opportunity or challenge, they know who needs access to the information, would the next step be to define the specific integration use case? Or would you recommend they document the actual business process the opportunity the integration solution is to address?
Answer: In defining business processes, the systems/applications are an integral part of understanding the processes. Most companies, won’t be able to truly distinguish between their processes and the systems. They tend to view them as all the same. It is critical when outlining the business processes to gather the individual applications and the data sources for those applications and translate them to business functional terminology while maintaining an understanding of the data from a technical standpoint.
Question: Would you suggest the next step is to map the data to be integrated?
Answer: Integration is all about mapping, enriching, and transforming the data. From a business standpoint, it is critical to identify the systems/applications that represent the “source of truth” for the data. From a technology standpoint, the key requirement is to understand the methods to access the data ( database reads, API, screen scraping, data entry) and the format of the data ( flat files, JSON, SOAP, etc.).
Question: You always have told me to not worry about the integration technology till companies understand their business requirements. How would you suggest clients select the best integration solution for their business?
Answer: Selecting the best integration solution is part science and part art. Making the decisions involves understanding not only the fit to business requirements, but also understanding the:
Knowledge and training requirements
Quality of Service (availability, reliability, and response time) requirements
Altogether these represent the driving factors for a successful integration solution.
Question: How important is it for the integration technology chosen to accept custom code or APIs to support companies’ unique requirements?
Answer: Customization capabilities, whether modifying the actual operation of the system being integrated or accessing the data through API’s is absolutely critical. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution. The key is that every company has unique ways of doing things and delivering its services and products to its customers. This is a key aspect of the free enterprise system. As such the integration systems must provide a means to allow its users to customize and differentiate their operations.
Question: Finally, are there other considerations that companies typically overlook when deploying integration solutions for their business?
Answer: One of the key considerations that many companies overlook is the skills and support they will need to keep their solution running. When considering an integration implementation, it is also critical to understand the training and ongoing support required. Often companies will use consulting companies to implement the solution. And those companies are very capable of delivering the integration capabilities. Companies often fall short by not evaluating these integration delivery consultants on their ability to train your staff to operate the solution and provide ongoing insight for continuous process improvement opportunities.
Jeff, thank you for your time, and for anyone who would like to schedule a discussion about integration with Jeff, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.