What is System Integration? Definition, Types, Benefits, Testing

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what is system integration? Definition

Companies today rely on a range of different systems to complete everyday tasks. But, when these solutions aren’t aligned, the result is disconnected data, lost productivity, and even security issues.

That's where system integration can help.

This article covers everything you need to know about system integration, exploring its meaning, components and types while giving real-world examples of the process in action.

What is System Integration? Definition

System integration is the process of connecting multiple different systems into a single larger system that functions as one. This allows businesses to share information between different sub-systems autonomously by translating data from different sources in the technology stack.

The goal of system integration is to break down communication barriers among disparate systems by ensuring that data flows seamlessly between different platforms.

This allows organizations to collect, analyze, and utilise data effectively, enabling informed decision-making and strategic planning to increase customer satisfaction, improve product development, and enhance market.

Components of System Integration

components of system integration

System integration involves various components working together seamlessly to achieve a unified and full view of an organisation's different systems.

The key components of system integration include:

1. Data Integration

The foundation of system integration lies in ensuring seamless data exchange between different systems through data integration. This involves ensuring that data is accurate, reliable, and can be shared and utilized effectively across different systems.

Key steps of data integration include:

  • Data Normalization: Standardizing and reconciling data formats to ensure consistency and compatibility across systems.
  • Data Transformation: Converting data from one format to another to facilitate smooth transfer between systems.
  • Data Cleansing: Identifying and correcting data inconsistencies and errors to ensure data integrity.

2. Application Integration

Connecting different applications to communicate and operate in harmony is essential for system integration This involves establishing a unified interface that allows applications to exchange data and interact without disruptions.

Key elements of application integration include:

  • Application Interoperability: Establishing protocols and standards that enable applications to exchange data and interact effectively.
  • Message Queuing: Utilizing message queues to store and transmit data between applications asynchronously.
  • Middleware: Utilizing middleware components to connect and manage interactions between applications.

3. Process Integration:

Aligning and automating processes across different systems is crucial for operational efficiency. This involves simplifying workflows, eliminating redundancies, and automating tasks to enhance productivity.

Key elements of process integration include:

  • Process Identification: Mapping and documenting existing processes to identify integration points and potential redundancies.
  • Process Automation: Implementing automation tools to streamline workflows, reduce manual intervention, and improve process efficiency.
  • Process Optimization: Continuously evaluating and optimizing processes to ensure alignment with business objectives and minimize errors.

4. User Experience Integration

A consistent and intuitive user experience across various systems is essential for user satisfaction and productivity. This involves ensuring that users can easily navigate and interact with the integrated system without experiencing any disruptions or inconsistencies.

Key elements of user experience integration include:

  • User Interface (UI) Design: Ensuring consistent layout, navigation, and visual elements across systems for a seamless user experience.
  • User Experience (UX) Design: Considering user needs, preferences, and behavior to optimize the overall user experience.
  • Single Sign-on (SSO): Implementing SSO to provide users with a unified login experience across multiple systems.

5. Infrastructure Integration:

Connecting and managing the underlying hardware and network infrastructure is a vital aspect of system integration. The process involves ensuring that the infrastructure is reliable, scalable, and can support the integrated system's performance and growth requirements.

Key elements of infrastructure integration include:

  • Network Connectivity: Establishing secure and reliable network connections between systems to facilitate data exchange.
  • Resource Management: Ensuring efficient allocation and utilization of hardware resources to optimize system performance.
  • Monitoring and Alerting: Implementing monitoring tools to detect potential issues and provide timely alerts for proactive troubleshooting.

The four types of system integration

types of system integration

The types of system integration can vary depending on who you ask. Some people categorise system integration by the methodologies used to connect systems, such as APIs, webhooks, Integration Services Components and Orchestration.

On a basic level, however, there are four main types of system integration:

1. Legacy system integration

Legacy system integration involves connecting modern applications to existing or outdated systems. This often involves using APIs, webhooks, and shared connection components to align pre-existing investments with new tools. For instance, a business might use legacy system integration to align an existing contact centre environment with digital CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software.

2. Enterprise application integration

Enterprise application integration unifies different sub-systems within a business environment. There are various types of enterprise application integration to explore, such as point-to-point integration and vertical or horizontal integration. The goal here is to bring multiple functions from different apps into a singular environment. For example, enterprise application integration might lead to the creation of an all-in-one HR platform where ERP, inventory management, and accounting tools are unified.

3. Third-party system integration

With third-party system integration, the focus is on expanding the functionality of an existing tool or software. This is often a popular choice among businesses looking to upgrade the functionality of their technology without investing in an entirely new platform. For instance, third-party system integration in the collaboration market might involve using direct routing to bring phone services into an application like Microsoft Teams from a communication vendor.

4. Business-to-business integration

With Business-to-business integration, companies concentrate on automating transactions and document exchange across multiple companies. The aim is to improve cooperation and trade with partners, customers, and suppliers. For instance, a business-to-business integration might include connecting a retailer’s existing purchasing system to a supplier’s ERP technology, to build a more coherent network.

Benefits of System Integration

System integration is a complex process, but it can offer a wide range of benefits for businesses of all sizes. Some of the major benefits of system integration include:

  • Productivity - Fully integrated systems allow for more consistent control over daily processes, adding efficiency to business workflows. Companies can get more work done in less time, and employees have access to all the information they need in one environment.
  • Data Accuracy - System integration helps to create a single source of truth for all data. This means the information shared throughout the business is consistent, allowing for more accurate business discoveries.
  • Faster decision-making - Since information isn’t scattered across siloed storage environments, companies perform analytics and diagnostics quickly and more effectively. A holistic view of all business data allows for better decision-making.
  • Cost-effectiveness - System integration is often a more affordable option for businesses looking to innovate than having to replace disjointed parts of a company with new technology. It also reduces the need for extra specialist support when tracking data.

Examples of systems integration

Companies today have a range of methods available they can access to connect systems and tools. Some of the most common connectors include things like middleware for connecting disconnected data, application programming interfaces (APIs), and webhooks or HTTP call-backs. They can also use electronic data exchange systems for the same purposes.

Systems integration strategies can also involve various models. For example, a point-to-point model involves extracting data from one system and submitting it to another environment automatically.

A hub-and-spoke model uses a central hub to sort through the data collected from each environment and deliver it in a useful format for business leaders. Companies might choose a hub-and-spoke approach to enterprise application integration. This would involve bringing data together from video conferencing, collaboration, and file-sharing tools in a unified, central platform.

The unified environment would pull data from each tool leveraged by the company, without requiring them to access the software solutions separately. This would allow for better end-to-end visibility, and improved productivity for the team.

System Integration testing

To ensure a systems integration strategy has worked effectively, companies often engage in System Integration Testing (SIT). SIT is performed in a unified software or hardware environment to assess the overall behaviour of the system. The testing aims to make sure data is moving between environments seamlessly.

Using strategic tests and analytics tools, companies can use SIT to validate the interactions of software and all the systems parts. For instance, imagine a company has a central database for customer relationship management and uses system integration to automatically pull data from call centres and other interactions with customers into the CRM.

A system integration test would ensure the right information is automatically captured and pushed into the right components of the CRM platform for users to access later. The tests would also ensure the validity and authenticity of the data aren’t influenced negatively by the integration.

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