Why CIOs must prioritize systems integration in 2022
Enterprise software strategies tend to run in cycles, particularly when it comes to business application implementation, but whichever approach prevails, fundamental challenges such as systems integration can remain unresolved. Over the last 30 years we have evolved from best-of-breed strategies to the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) suite and back to best-of-breed with the rise of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). SaaS has made it easy to spin up application instances, giving customers access to best-in-class features from multiple vendors, but also causing overnight system integration problems.
In the past, we’ve seen users adopt a point-to-point solution to solve this challenge, whether it’s a tool they built themselves or they hired a developer to write application programming interfaces (APIs) or use use native adapter. Just when the first obstacles are overcome, the landscape is expanded with the next application that requires another solution. Over time, this leads to a “rat’s nest” of point-to-point solutions, leading to maintenance chaos and a role-based or data security nightmare as applications are scattered everywhere.
It can also become a release management nightmare as IT teams must put all of these pieces together to ensure that the enterprise software environment is a sum of its parts. The solution to this system integration challenge should be more holistic than simply getting applications to talk to each other. The strategy should ensure that security, release management, monitoring, planning, workflow, error detection and alerting are built into the approach from the start. Although system integration is seen as a problem, the real question is not “how do I do system integration?”. but “How do I keep all my systems modern and functional 20 years after their original design?”.
Don’t deviate from your IP and your way of doing business
The goal should be to keep the core investment viable and modern, with the freedom to innovate slightly on the edges. This can be achieved by prioritizing system integration in any transformation process. It should involve taking over existing enterprise systems, not replacing them. These systems should provide the foundation for your company’s future growth and innovation. They are at the core of your intellectual property and the way you do business, with over a decade of functionality built into your internal ERP system. Scratching all of that means you’re leaving behind 10 years of differentiation and customization.
This is not the approach suggested by many software vendors. They usually have a published certification matrix stating that if you use a specific ERP version, you can only use approved and certified browsers, operating systems, Java versions and databases. Customers with vendor support must use the certified tools as vendors can only test a limited number of permutations and combinations.
That means there is a finite list of technologies that can be used with your core ERP system. The challenge is that if you have an internal ERP system, you have to plug into a SaaS cloud model and deal with the SaaS application being constantly updated, which in turn requires the internal ERP System is constantly updated adapters to stay in sync.
The prospect of updating your internal ERP system once a month to stay compliant is something very few customers are willing to take on.
But it doesn’t have to be that hard. We always recommend looking at your requirements today and taking what you already have and connecting them to external data sources by building interfaces and standards around the core ERP to minimize system integration effort. Modern systems should be open systems architectures, allowing companies to invest around their core ERP platforms with integrations for analytics, data visualization, e-commerce and social media, but always in a way that doesn’t compromise existing intellectual property.
There are many systems integration platforms that allow enterprise technologies to talk to each other without using vendor adapters. Ways to make applications interoperable include:
- Choose point-to-point solutions to allow applications to work together once. Write your own custom applications if you think the integration functionality in a point-to-point solution is more than you need and you have specific needs.
- Use enterprise-level software like MuleSoft and Tibco to take a centralized approach to systems integration, workflows, security, release management, timing, versioning, and monitoring. However, this can make it confusing and expensive when juggling multiple technologies and vendors. When you have the right partner who understands both the complexities and opportunities that arise from integrating applications with your internal core ERP, you have freedom from the certification matrix to innovate and not to destroy your intellectual property interfere without having to worry about not being supported or not -compliant.
- Embark on an intelligent digital transformation journey. Enterprise technology has always looked for ways to improve and simplify it without requiring a complete overhaul of existing technology environments. For example, VMWare has established an interface between the hardware and the application to maintain business continuity by switching between hardware without having to reinstall everything because the power supply has failed.
If you create a separation between your core ERP investment and all these innovative best-of-breed applications by using the right interface, you shouldn’t have to worry about your applications. Using the right tools also gives you more confidence that you can solve the system integration challenge and, more importantly, it gives you more flexibility in how you consider modernizing.
The decision to upgrade or not becomes a more logical process of exclusion, where you evaluate criteria to justify whether an upgrade is necessary, because with the right tools, you may not need to update to the latest version of an application to continue innovating be. Some of the most important factors to consider when making upgrade decisions are:
- Will an upgrade solve real business goals or challenges?
- Will upgrading give me access to new features or functionality that I will actually use?
- Can I solve compatibility or system integration issues with less disruptive and less expensive tools without upgrading?
- Is performance suffering, and if so, what is causing this performance issue and will an upgrade alone fix the root cause?
In the future, when considering the question of systems integration, CIOs must incorporate future-proofing, modernization and alternative approaches into the DNA of their strategies from the beginning of a project. The ambition must be to solve the system integration not only for the immediate challenge, but also for the future. This is forcing companies to develop standards and policies that avoid the need for one-off point solutions when there is a problem with system integration.
Most importantly, adopting this mindset avoids succumbing to the vendor’s obvious argument that an upgrade is the only way to solve systems integration. Systems integration and modernization are intertwined, but modernization without an upgrade should become a mantra that all IT departments are happy to subscribe to.
Eric Helmer is Chief Technology Officer at Rimini Street, where he advises clients on strategic innovative initiatives that align with financial, technical and functional long-term business goals across applications including Oracle, SAP, IBM and Microsoft.