Steering application integration projects to success

Despite meticulous planning, it’s an unfortunate fact that many application integration projects fail. This is despite most projects beginning with a diligent and often lengthy search for the best tools and expertise, with clear objectives, project plans and methodology. Here we examine the common pitfalls and how effective management can help engender ‘buy in’ to any changes, and pave the way to more successful projects.

The importance of management

Senior management holds the key to integration project success, by taking a strategic view and ensuring the right resources are dedicated to the project. Ultimately, enterprise integration projects are a management task rather than a business unit or IT responsibility and it is only with clear management guidance that these projects can succeed. This may seem strange, after all many integration projects are tactical, such as making workflows link better into various systems; but these projects can have such a significant impact on the performance of the business, that change should be derived from an overarching strategy.

IT Input

The involvement of IT from the earliest stages is essential. This is because integration affects systems, which requires changes to the support team. As the IT department has been affected first, they must not only be consulted but should also have a pivotal role in providing access to systems and ensuring that technologies work. The IT department does more than just implement the plan; management needs their input and they must be brought into the project from the very beginning and given the big picture view of the integration project as a significant partner.

Use champions to foster buy-in from users

Typically, individuals in enterprise departments aren’t resistant to a project just because it represents a change; they become resistant because no-one understands the benefits of the project well enough. Finding influential people within affected departments and empowering them to champion the project to their colleagues can help to foster buy-in to its benefits.These champions can also help management to understand staff’s concerns and try to mitigate these. Sometimes the concerns of these staff or stakeholders will provide early warnings of a flaw in the project plan that could have cost the enterprise valuable time and money to fix later on. These champions must have a deep understanding of multiple enterprise functions and, of course, they need clear sponsorship and empowerment from top management.

Look for solutions, not blame

If things do go wrong, or a project schedule slips, then the entire management team needs to adopt a strategic view and foster an attitude of cooperation, openness and problem-solving across all departments working on the project. Seek to understand why something has gone wrong rather than simply assigning blame, and also understand why elements proceed quickly and effectively. Encourage different areas of the business to learn from each others’ experiences and to anticipate where problems could potentially occur.

Focus on processes, not data

Integration projects often fail because data is locked up in silos that cannot be accessed. This is where a focus on process is vital; focusing on data can lead to protectionism and small-scale thinking, however processes require an end-to-end view that encompasses the entire enterprise.The key to a process-led view is considering what users of the integrated system are actually trying to achieve when they begin any task and what information flows are needed to complete these tasks. This helps reticent departments understand that the project is not about making data accessible to all staff or suppliers; instead it is automating access to certain data, as and when it is needed.

Dealing with suppliers

Large enterprise systems are supported by their vendors, and many of these will have their own preferred implementation partners. It is important that you bring on board not only the vendors but also their subcontracted partners, explain your vision and engage with them long before the project starts. This way you can resolve any potential issues before they become roadblocks to your project.

Continuous change

Do not try to fix your enterprise all in one go. Have a clear project scope, complete that project and see what happens before embarking on further projects. Divide your strategy into components, comprising individual projects that can be implemented independently. This allows you to carry out, develop, test and make live the first component, then wait and see what happens. Once you have identified the impacts of the first component, redesign your second component with these lessons in mind, develop it, go live, and again assess next steps. If you have a clear strategy it is relatively simple to build on a successful project. However, this does mean that you need to choose an integration tool which allows this kind of flexible, process-driven integration where future changes are not just a possibility but the norm.

By David Akka, Managing Director at Magic Software Enterprises UK.

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