Systems Integration – Things to consider

For most organisations there is no one software application product that meets all its needs. Even the most sophisticated and comprehensive ERP solution is likely to miss out on required functionality and often the best solution is to select an additional specialist or specific best of breed software application to be integrated with the ERP.

Having made such a decision the question is raised – what sort of integration is required? The tightness of any integration can be defined as of three broad levels:

• Level 1 – data is transferred between systems at given times
• Level 2 – two or more databases are synchronised regularly
• Level 3 – two or more applications share a common database

For some solutions a combination of levels is appropriate. For example, if integrating an eCommerce application with a generalised sales order processing and fulfilment package, one might use level 3 integration to share the stock and/or customer database, but level 1 integration for passing order details between the systems.

It might seem that level 3 is always best, but this is not the case and there are arguments for and against each degree of tightness.The actual choice made in any circumstance will be driven by a number of factors:

• What the organisation needs or wants to achieve;
• How important it is for the integration to be to maintain a real time view of data in both systems;
• How quickly the organisation needs/wants the solution;
• How open the application packages are in terms of publishing details, maintaining consistent published interfaces and advising developers and customers about significant technical changes made to their product;
• What is technically possible given the application packages to be integrated (often level 3 integration is not possible unless a solution is being developed – including an eCommerce solution);
• The budget or cost/benefit case.

One important issue that arises from this list is to make ‘openness’ a criteria when selecting an ERP solution, which can also be applied to the selection of any application package. Even if at the outset there is no requirement for integration, it is quite likely that during the lifetime use of such an application (five to ten years) some kind of integration will be necessary or desirable.