7 Tips for a successful System Integration Project

Application managers and business analysts are being asked by business to redesign business processes based on new capabilities enabled by mobile, social and cloud computing. Despite the pressure from line-of-business managers for new strategies and approaches to traditional business issues, many IT departments resist change due to risk aversion, financial restraints and short-term thinking.
In many cases they lack the agility needed within their IT infrastructure to update systems efficiently, manage data securely and integrate processes effectively across the enterprise. From the typical South African corporation’s perspective, as with most emerging markets, business has evolved through mergers and acquisitions and regional expansions. It is not uncommon to have a multitude of regional or local branches reporting to HQ offices abroad. This leads to compounded complexities surrounding core business applications, particularly when tackling social, mobile and cloud and system integration projects that leverage new capabilities risk becoming overly complex, lengthy and expensive. Integration can be quite tricky, so it is always useful to have a basic self-help guide at your side. Here are 7 tips to keep in mind when tackling your next systems integration project:

Every project needs a champion – someone who will advocate for the project, understand its benefits and can encourage cooperation from change-weary managers and employees. An executive sponsor brings the vision and energy necessary to effectively instill corporate change. Fortunately, the enthusiasm level for mobile, social and cloud computing strategies and tactics remains high. Consequently IT will often find a refreshing willingness by traditional line-of-business and C-level executives in sales, marketing, manufacturing, finance and operations that has not always been present in other past IT initiatives. Your executive sponsor or champion is your key partner in any systems integration project. Get their input from the outset and utilize their clout within the organization to get the cooperation you need.
2. CREATE SMALL MILESTONESRegardless of whether you use agile or scrum project management methodologies, early and frequent successes are essential. Integration projects are typically wide-ranging and complex, following a grand strategic vision of how the company should look. Too many projects are cancelled midstream simply because they often look incomplete with endless work ahead. Keep a clear path for success outlined in small manageable milestones. You may want to have an initial proof-of-concept project that shows the viability of your underlying integration approach, so that you can keep the project moving forward to the final result without suffering waning enthusiasm. More importantly, by planning for a series of small successes that can show reasonable results, all parties involved in the project will remain happy with the progress.

3. KEEP IT SAFE AND SECUREWhile it will be tempting to strike quickly and beat the competition in delivering new customer experiences based on social, mobile and cloud computing, never put you or your customers’ data, privacy or security at risk. There are several smart decisions you can take to improve your chances of secure system integration projects. Keeping the integration server behind the firewall and encrypting all transport layers are among some of the more obvious approaches for integration projects. On mobile alone, there are a range of ways to achieve this, from securing the device with passwords, MDM solutions, and geo-fences, to securing access to the applications, often through containers, and finally securing the data itself, by encrypting and ensuring it is not stored on the device. Follow the requirements of your security plan and adjust it as needed to anticipate new threats. 

4. APPROACH INTEGRATION SYSTEMATICALLYToo many enterprises rely on manual programming to connect point-to-point integration of enterprise systems today. While this may be manageable in the short-term with small numbers of systems involved, it becomes virtually impossible in the context of cloud, social and mobile integration. For one thing, the ubiquitous nature of mobile business processes is leading to an explosion in the number of apps. This is compounded by an equivalent explosion in the number of APIs, all of which must be connected and cleaned up through data transformation and messaging approaches. Choose an integration platform with a good balance of application adapters and technology adapters that can manage the communications needed between all of the APIs in your enterprise IT environment. 

5. UNDERSTAND THE PROCESSThe role of the IT Business Analyst and architects is to help his or her organization envision business processes and implement the best automation of those business processes using technology. This means that the business analyst is involved in a communication process that helps them to best understand business users, extract the “voice of the process” and clearly document current and future state processes in a way that demonstrates value. Listening to the voice of the process is essential in governance of a successful systems integration project. Use case diagrams and specifications help to document current and future state processes that are critical to project success and to the setting of reasonable expectations.

6. BUILD MONITORING AND PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT INTO THE PROJECTSocial, mobile and cloud computing are contributing to an explosion of business process related data and metadata. Along with fault-tolerance, resilience and elasticity, monitoring and performance management capabilities are an essential component of the integration platform supporting your systems integration projects. A requirement for guaranteed message delivery makes integration monitoring vital. If a system fails during transmission the integration tool needs to recognize when it can resend the message. Further, monitoring capabilities allow systems to automatically cache transmissions that cannot be sent, and grant extra resources to deal with sudden peaks in demand. Such integration monitoring tools provide IT managers with the ability to visualize and report on the performance of integration processes. 

7. QUANTIFY THE BENEFITSUnderstanding and justifying costs is essential to project success. Integration projects have ongoing maintenance costs, so it is essential to provide both an initial project cost-benefit analysis and to validate these assumptions following implementation. It will be easier to justify projects where infrastructure and labor costs are clearly controlled from the outset. Overly complex middleware involving multiple middleware layers can become extremely expensive. Look for a single-stack integration and mobile platform from which you can manage your project.Integration can bring significant value, and not necessarily where you expect; so rather than being concerned about the costs, think about the cost advantages you are missing. In creating business process models to document your enterprise patterns, flow diagrams are typically used to illustrate the basic steps of a business process. Most approaches to system integration focus on the logical steps in the business process but sometimes fail to analyze value. Value stream mapping allows you to document the business flow while at the same time taking time to annotate the added-value or cost inherent in each constituent step of a process.Regardless of whether you decide to outsource your integration project or manage it yourself, these 7 tips for a successful system integration project will help assure project success.

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