Friday, July 02, 2004

To Integrate or Not To Integrate

I had a lively discussion w/ one of my colleagues today about business system integrations. This is an age-old thorny issue that organizations of any size will have to deal with sooner or later because it could work out beatifully or it could be a disaster that send people out on the streets looking for jobs.

I believe the integration comes down to three issues:

  1. Best-of-breed approach
  2. Integration-capability among systems
  3. One integrated system

In an ideal world, I would pick number 3. Matter of fact, we are a solution provider for a hosted front- and back-office system, NetSuite. This is a very good system for majority of small- to mid-size businesses out there. We use it ourselves here for our business operation. Where else can one find an integrated full-featured CRM/ERP/E-Commerce package for under $10K a year for five users and not have to worry about upgrading hardware infrastructure? Other huge benefits: hosted applications minimze the need for IT staff and downtime for upgrades. Though there are areas that NetSuite can't or won't touch. MRP (Manufacture Resource Planning) is one example.

On the other hand, I have been in an organization where number 1 is a preferred approach. Let's get the best of breed and worry about the integration later. My last company couldn't get SAP to talk to Dominos database and try to force-feed Dominos/Notes into an SFA (Sales Force Automation) application. The integration was a nightmare and I, the product manager, sufferred since I had no visibility into my pipeline. The comapany (a public company) ended up doing a lot of forecasting in Excel using piece-meal information from various groups. I didn't think it was very efficient.

I think the best approach should involve a well-thoughout requirement stage where:

  • Use multiple systems if absolutely have to. For instance, using NetSuite for CRM/ERP and an appropriate MRP system.
  • Best-of-breed is not needed if the best software does not allow easy integration. Most companies out there rarely use all functionality of the system anyway.
  • Define modules clearly and spell out the touch points (integration) between systems. The less touch points, the better integration will be. Thankfully web services are coming. They will simplify the integration task quite a bit.

Most the points above are nothing new. It's all common sense yet most people tend to get emotionally involved and forget to look at things more subjectively. Maybe integration project should include a warning: Subjects appeared to be emotional...

Thoughts and comments?

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