Enterprise Level Integration Considerations and Tips for Your Organization
Panic is lame. Start your integration without It. Keep reading for enterprise level integration considerations and tips for your organization.
Setting the Scene
"Our website is old. It's a mess. I get constant complaints from donors, members, and passers-by alike. This year, we will spare no effort or expense to build a web presence that extols the virtues of our organization and presents our mission clearly and effectively."
Johnny Studebaker sits tall and upright in the middle of the 3rd row of the 10-row auditorium during the CEO's annual internal address on the upcoming year's goals for the organization. So tall, in fact, that Miss Lavell, the data entry specialist that is stuck right behind Johnny in the middle of the 4th row and who can't be a millimeter over 1.524 meters (5 feet flat), has to tap on his shoulder and ask if he couldn't be troubled slide to the right a little bit, allowing her to slide to the left and view the speaker as he talks. Johnny obliges quietly and quickly; he's usually aware of shorter people behind him at movies, concerts, or other venues where people of a slighter vertical inclination might have trouble viewing the person they've all come to see.
Johnny blames this mental lapse on his inability to stop ruminating on the conversation he attended with the CEO and COO in the former's top-floor office earlier this afternoon, where the CEO took over an hour to explain this new project now being announced to the rest of the company, and that he would be tasked with leading one of the four major portions of the project: the integration of the organization's ERP system with the website. The CEO gave him a document with four major responsibilities and discussed each with him. He would be reporting directly to the COO. Johnny dotes on his excitement and enormity of this task placed before him as the CEO stands at the lectern, not 4 hours later, and announces the people he has appointed to lead the project. Johnny's name is among them.
The meeting ends to a round of applause. Multiple people walk up to Johnny, shake his hand, wish him best of luck on the project, and express their excitement to begin their portion of the project with him. The room is bathed in an aura of excitement for the beginning of the endeavor.
Reality Sets In…
Johnny walks back to his office around 5:30 (standard COB) and falls back into his chair. He takes stock of the day, and a slight rush of panic resonates from his heartbeat and spreads through his bloodstream. This is the biggest project that he's been assigned. The company's ERP system houses data on memberships, ecommerce, donations, member records, and events. In other words, everything. And he is responsible for the successful implementation of the system.
"This is no way to start", he thinks. "The first step in all of this, and the way in which to alleviate the panic, is to come up with a plan that makes sense, as with any other project, and to pick the next best thing that can be done to achieve the overall goal. This one's just... much, much bigger." He takes out a legal pad from his top desk drawer and snatches his favorite Pilot V5 Pen from the company-issued Grumpy Cat penholder (not really company issued, but he likes to say it is as it's the result of a Christmas Party joke directed at him by one of his bosses regarding his resemblance to an unhappy feline, which when the doctored penholder was seen on Johnny's desk by said boss during his next visit resulted in no less than five minutes of bone-rattling laughter and a dictation to seriously never remove it from his desk, hence company-issued/required). He writes down the following goals that need to be met, along with some notes to guide his initial actions.
Choose the correct vendor to complete the technical portion of the integration
In any integration, the technical team must have the brainpower to understand the logic between systems, the technical expertise to commit the logical thought process to working code, and the cajones to push until the integration is perfect. The RFP should take care to note that the vendor must have good technical expertise with the organization's ERP and with the TBD website platform (Drupal, Magento, etc.). Ask for examples of communication and integration case studies.
Interview each department that leverages the ERP system. Determine how they currently interface with it and how data flows from the website to the ERP system and vice versa.
This goal is probably too large, but this needs to happen with every single department. Make a checklist of what each department must provide, and add to the checklist as new items are uncovered through conversations. This should include items like the following:
- Describe each way in which the department interacts with the ERP on a daily basis
- Describe each way in which the department interacts with the website on a daily basis
- Describe each way in which the ERP and website currently communicate on which the department relies
Assemble a team for effective quality assurance and set standards
This integration is going to be big and it's going to touch every aspect of the organization. The people that are involved daily must give their approval of the work that has been done, but a separate team should also confirm that the process is working. Perhaps the chosen firm will have a Quality Assurance department that can help, or a recommendation of a 3rd party separate from both the vendor and the organization. The integration should be unnoticeable by the front-end user and depended upon by staff members.
Stick to a regular communication structure
Integrations require that all parties maintain regular communication. Even if APIs already exist to connect the two systems, all parties should keep up to date on progress and make sure one another keep their deadlines. Chances are high that somewhere along the path, customization will be required. Those customizations have to be written, verified, tested against both common and edge cases, and set for implementation. Good communication will decrease the chance of unknown failure and keep expectations appropriate.
Set a success rate expectation, because nothing is perfect
Set a success rate that the integration can be depended upon to hit in the first week, month, year, and throughout its lifetime. Identify potential risks and determine ways in which data can still be retrieved, even if a step in the integration misfires. Make each department aware of these risks and the procedure behind retrieving data if necessary. Determine how to show the success rate (perhaps, if it's a 99% success rate, 99 out of every 100 calls happen properly. Find how this can be tracked.)
A Moment of Clarity
The panic in the veins has subsided. Heartbeat's back down to a steady rate. Blue ink blotches dot the page where the pen was left in a spot for just a half-second too long. This is the beginning of an actual action plan, one that will have many branches and changes before it's complete. But it's a place to begin.
Johnny jots down the actions he needs to take tomorrow to get each step in action. He puts his pen back in the meme-penholder, shuts his computer, throws on his coat, and strolls out of his office feeling confident and relaxed. Tomorrow, the real fun begins.
Working with Unleashed
At Unleashed we see this scenario reenacted time and time again. We hope these enterprise system integration considerations and tips will help ease the panic behind jumping into a complex project.
If you’re looking for help integrating enterprise level systems, CRMs, marketing automation platforms, financial systems, databases, etc. Contact Unleashed today.