There are many challenges in integrating 2 data systems. In this post we will cover the following challenges: lack of skills, lack of money, lack of resources, poor communication/planning, after go-live maintenance and difficult technical issues. After each challenge we will briefly mention possible solutions.
Lack of skills – There are 3 pieces to the integration puzzle:
- The left-hand side system, say your Student Information System
- The integration middleware (API, Enterprise Service Bus, etc.)
- The right-hand side system, say your Admissions CRM or Travel & Expense software
You need someone that is knowledgeable about the data and internal structure of all 3 of these pieces. Most institutions might have someone knowledgeable in 2 of the pieces but rarely all 3. And heaven forbid if someone unexpectantly leaves your institution that has the knowledge but does not pass it along to someone else.
SOLUTION: Find solution and vendor that has the necessary expertise. Make sure more than 1 person has the necessary integration/system knowledge for each system.
Lack of money – Often money is allocated to the left-hand side and the right-hand side systems but not for the integration between them as that usually occurs later.
SOLUTION: Find other institutions that need the same connections and see if a group price is available. Budget integration into new system implementation.
Lack of resources – remember that:
- IT needs to be involved when they need to be but usually have other commitments or responsibilities
- Business users need to be involved when they need to be but usually have other commitments or responsibilities
- People do not participate throughout the entire project. It should not take a lot of time, but certain roles need to be available when they are needed
SOLUTION: Review current in-house resources and determine what outside resources are necessary including bring in integration solutions.
Poor communication or planning – As in all projects, communication is key. And having a plan is a must. A few thoughts on this challenge:
- Eliminate the finger pointing. Make sure it is clearly defined on who does what and document what is being integrated (Ok to use a tool like the Data Cookbook to do this)
- Make sure that there is consensus on the business requirements
- Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Understand that integration is not simple, quick or easy. Don’t set up unrealistic deadlines. And that issues will be discovered once you test the integration. Similar to the last 2 minutes in a basketball game, the testing before go live takes the longest, so plan for it.
- Understand that there are multiple parties involved in the integration project (departments, vendors, consultants, etc.) and they must be on the same page. And communication needs to be done to these parties at the appropriate time
- Often there is too much participation. People need to be informed and available, but they should not feel like they are wasting their time in countless meetings regarding integration
SOLUTION: Assign a project manager who creates a project plan that identifies who is involved, when they should be involved and how they should be communicated with.
Forgetting about after go-live maintenance – Often, the assumption is once the integration is working and live that it will not have to be maintained. That never happens as the left-hand and right-hand systems often change or the business changes that requires an integration change. For example, a new field needs to be displayed, mapped and accessed by the other system. And the integration solution needs to be monitored on a regular basis checking for errors so problems can be fixed quickly.
SOLUTION: If possible, put on-going maintenance into integration implementation plan. Include in the plan the monitoring of the integration and who is responsible.
Difficult technical issues – These could include:
• No existing or standard APIs
• No automation or ability for vendors to initiate transactions
• No clear option on where the work can be done: left-hand side source system, intermediate processing (middleware tool), or right-hand side target system
SOLUTION: Ask for open APIs from your vendors. If technical issues are too great, investigate replacing the data system causing the issue.
As mentioned, there are many challenges with the integration between 2 disparate data systems. This blog post identifies the major challenges and offers possible solutions to the challenge. There are integration solutions and vendors available to assist with the challenges after it has been determined that in-house solutions and resources are not enough.
IData is expert in integrating higher education data systems including ERPs, SISs, CRMs and financial solutions. We have connectors and our IDataHub enterprise service bus that makes integration easy. IData also has experts that can assist with data governance, reporting and other technology services on an as needed basis. Feel free to contact us and let us know how we can assist.
(image credit StockSnap_H9AE9E9LDV_maze_integrationchallenges_BP #1087)