As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail. For traditional business technologies, the hammer was to have one monolithic system. It made sense to keep costs down and create a focal point for the organisation’s data and resources. But in practice, it’s a flawed approach, effectively shoehorning parts of the business into a system not suited to their needs.
Take ERPs as an example. You can add modules for logistics, human resources or customer management, but they are never as effective as software made for those purposes. Yet that creates a different issue – now you are encouraging data and process siloes.
If you could integrate those different systems while maintaining their autonomy – then you are onto a winning formula.
“All businesses require integration to automate and digitalise business processes,” says Riaan Bekker, thryve’s Force Solutions Manager. “We’ve seen most integration requirements revolving around connecting customers and their data with the operational systems within companies. And there’s also lots of activity in adding data from external data sources for augmenting risk and hazard profiles for analytics – to be consumed and analysed by companies and their customers.”
It’s crucial not only to connect modern systems but also to involve the data from legacy systems. You can’t do away with that central ERP platform and database, but you want to start using a modern CRM platform and collate your business information on both. That is what modern integration accomplishes.
Integration is crucial for companies with digital transformation, data-first and customer-centric agendas, says Daniel Chilcott, Managing Director of Flowgear, thryve’s integration platform partner:
“A simple example would be a company with an online storefront. Once a customer has placed an order, that order will need to be integrated as an invoice into the accounting system and then possibly loaded into the warehouse management system. Those are the types of tasks that the Flowgear platform will help you to automate.”
Why use an integration platform?
Chilcott founded Flowgear after noting a need for reliable and fast integration services. While developing and selling a CRM platform, he realised that many customers wanted to integrate the CRM into their existing systems. Spotting an opportunity, he branched out to develop an on-premise integration engine, then evolving it into a cloud-powered platform called Flowgear.
It’s helpful to understand how systems integration differs from what was previously done. Traditional systems integration is point-to-point, connecting two systems directly with a lot of bespoke coding and alterations to the software suites. In contrast, modern integration uses Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), effectively a translator between the software and whatever wishes to communicate with it. APIs are appearing everywhere – for example, banking platforms offer APIs so that third parties such as accounting firms can interact directly (but safely) with the bank’s systems.
APIs significantly reduce the risk and increase the scope of integration, leading to fewer silos and much greater value from technology. Yet for all the added ease, they are not simple to accomplish, says Bekker:
“In our experience, those new to integration often underestimate the effort required to develop those integrations and the financial and human resources to maintain and update those integrations over time. Flowgear significantly reduces that initial and ongoing effort, without a doubt.”
Integration can be very demanding, particularly with bespoke and legacy systems. Flowgear tackles this challenge on two levels. It uses the cloud’s DNA to create the most efficient and tested paths for integration, and it puts enormous effort into developing APIs that can facilitate different system interactions. Flowgear currently has over 200 different integration applications, covering well-known software, exotic applications and generic functions found among software and databases. It also works closely with partners such as thryve to develop new integrations and, as a natively South African business, is very attuned to local opportunities and challenges.
Making an integration difference
Flowgear and thryve often collaborate to integrate customer systems with new deployments, particularly for Salesforce and Riskonnect. Though an integration platform significantly improves delivery times and meeting expectations, it’s not a solution in itself. The service providers and platform are there to respond to the client’s business needs. Thus, to get value from your integration, understand what you need, says Chilcott:
“Just using a platform won’t solve the problem. If you automate chaos, you just get turbo chaos. You still need to be purposeful and avoid over-engineering a solution. One of the biggest things that we sometimes see that most often leads to failure is an attempt to integrate everything into everything. I’ve got an ERP and I’ve got a CRM, and I want everything to sync in both directions. But if you try to execute on that, it’s a disaster. It’s best to be purposeful about what your objective is. What’s the most useful way this piece of data in system A should be present in system B?”
It can be a daunting question – after all, you want to realise the value of integration, not detangle every integration possibility to get there. This is why the combination of a skilled business system partner such as thryve and a leading agile integration platform such as Flowgear are invaluable allies when deciding on how to proceed.
“Pick a partner that understands your business and your industry, and the business processes related to that,” says Bekker. “That’s essential in the integration: the connection and the communication between the systems. So, definitely pick a partner that understands you and understands your industry and those business processes within.”