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System integration is the process of connecting multiple different systems into a single larger system that functions as one.
Companies often rely on several different systems – from hardware investments to software tools – to complete everyday tasks. When these solutions aren’t aligned, the result is often disconnected data, lost productivity, and even security issues.
System integration allows businesses to align their technology ecosystems to share information between different sub-systems autonomously. An integrator works as a middleman in this environment, translating data from different sources in the technology stack. Without an integration strategy, employees would have to manually transfer data from one environment to another.
What is System Integration? Definition
System Integration might sound complicated, but it’s actually a relatively straightforward concept. Its goal is to synchronise all virtual and physical components in a technology environment so that everything can work together seamlessly.
Companies use system integration to boost the productivity and performance of the business. When all technology and tools can work together and leverage the same data, businesses can thrive.
Benefits of System Integration
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.
The four 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.
What is an example 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 individual 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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