Here are a few steps that will make your job easier.
Annoying scenario #1: Your salespeople are forced to do double-entry bookkeeping. Shouldn't you leave that to your accountants? Because your Salesforce.com isn't integrated into your SAP or Oracle systems, your top sales people are also data entry clerks, duplicating information among systems instead of closing more deals.
Annoying scenario #2: Your support team is receiving calls from Customer X about a problem they're having with your solution. Their support system only shows that Customer X has called twice in the past month with the same problem. If they could also access your ERP, they'd be able to see that Customer X ordered every part he needed except for critical Widget Y. Meanwhile, he's tweeting and Facebooking away about how your tech support stinks.
I can come up with more examples, but I think you've got the point.
Integrating your disparate systems allows you to streamline processes, automate mundane tasks, and provide easier access to more complete, relevant, and real-time information. For example, by integrating your ERP and CRM systems such as JD Edwards to Microsoft CRM or to Salesforce.com or by extending info from your system of record into a front-end system such as SharePoint, you'll enable your sales and customer service personnel to enjoy a 360 degree view of your customers – providing them with easy access to the critical data they need to do their jobs better and more effectively. And your business will gain a few more additional benefits. You'll increase productivity, reduce errors and costs, enhance customer satisfaction and service, all while improving overall organizational efficiency.
That's got to help your bottom line.
And the good news is that integration complexity can be greatly reduced without resorting to manually programming or overly complex "middleware" approaches.
After years of experience in the implementation of integration projects that streamline business processes, I can assure you it really isn't as daunting as it sounds. You don't have to put up with "silos" of information that don't work together. You can and should fix this!
Here are a few steps that will make your job easier:
1) Evaluate: Don't do anything, don't touch anything, don't promise anything until you've taken time to analyze the situation. Make sure you review the current set-up. What systems do you have? How will integration help prepare for the update of your software systems? How secure is your existing infrastructure? What needs to be connected? What do you want the end result to look like? How can business processes become more agile and responsive?
2) Discuss: Ensure that you meet with the stakeholders. What do they want to be able to do? How?
3) Prioritize: Construct a logical sequence based upon need and time. Focus on business critical systems that differentiate your company and provide proprietary value first, while considering commoditized operational systems and assets later.
4) Plan with the Future in Mind: Create a realistic implementation plan with appropriate timelines and budgets, taking into account all of the above. Be sure that your plan incorporates sound approaches that will flex with future changes in technology and architecture.
5) Choose Smart Tools: No shortcuts or ill-conceived patchwork! Find integration architecture that spans versions and is compatible with everything you have. Make sure your integration tool has certified connectors for the ecosystems you are integrating (e.g. SAP, Salesforce.com, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, etc.). Do not take system A and try to mix it with system B by hard-coding your own software connections. Manual point-to-point integration projects require developers to deal with multiple complex APIs as well as challenges of integrating on-premise and cloud-based systems. As a result, manually coded projects frequently create an integration environment that is confused, inefficient, non-scalable, and difficult to maintain. Also, don't confine yourself into a single architecture. You don't want to add even more time and aggravation to the process or lock yourself out of tomorrow's technologies.
6) Don't Do It Alone: Collaborate with experienced vendors. They have done this before. Ask their advice. Many offer formal professional services, preventing you from making common – and expensive mistakes.
As long as you take the same logical approach to integration as you have with the many other projects you've completed, it will be fine. I know. I've helped hundreds of customers through this same process. After all was said and done, they were glad they did it. You will be, too.
Regev Yativ is President and CEO of Magic Software Enterprises Americas.
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