Integration is the Holy Grail of the software and hardware world—the ability to tie together and automate all parts of your organization. It’s called seamless integration, touchless automation, and a host of other phrases filled with the promise of cutting-edge technology. In the printing and publishing industry it signifies the creation of one unified system, from prepress through MIS.
But does the promise live up to the hype? The reality is that true integration is hard, time consuming, and expensive. Even to the most committed of organizations, it can seem like an elusive goal. So why does anyone even bother? Because the benefits can be substantial—picture data flowing intelligently between your order entry, production management, and financial systems, giving you a complete view of your organization and automating your most complex business processes.
Many companies and consultants promise integration, but the term is often spoken in a broad sense, overused, and misunderstood. There is a significant gap between the very beginning of integration (a simple one-way manual data exchange) and its true meaning in technology circles (a bi-directional, real-time, intelligent connection between two systems).
How well do you understand technology integration and, most importantly, its impact on your business? Are your current and future IT projects really sending you down the path towards one inter-connected system? To help you sort through the jargon and understand the difference between the hype and the reality, here are three common misconceptions of integration:
Integration, like leather seats, is a luxury, not a necessity.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is integration a necessity, it’s essential to business survival. Think of the considerable time and money you have already spent investing in multiple technology systems to help run your business, such as Web-to-print, prepress management, production workflow, MIS, and financial systems. Without integrating these together, it’s like you’ve bought a car with all the various options you want, but left out the seats entirely, making it difficult to get in and move it where you need to go.
In an ideal world, all business applications would look alike, work alike, and “speak” to each other right out of the box. But in the real world most do not. In fact, some are so isolated they create their own data silos where information is held only in that system, never reaching any other applications. By integrating your systems, you let the data flow seamlessly from one application to another and get instant visibility into all areas of your business. Productivity improves, cycle times are reduced, and, in the end, you’re able to make decisions easier, faster, and more effectively.
Integration is like learning how to ride a bike—easy after you’ve done it once.
If this is true, then imagine trying to learn how to ride this bike: 20 wheels of all shapes and sizes, three handlebars, and capable of traveling in five directions simultaneously! The truth is that integration is never easy and it’s never done. To be successful, all software tools must continuously evolve to meet the needs of the end user. And, as integration implies a relationship between two or more systems (each evolving at different speeds and in different directions), the process to support and advance the integration is complex and critical to ongoing success. With technology integrations, there are important milestones along the way, but no final sprint across the finish line to the end of the race.
Both internally and through your various software vendors, the extended team you rely on to develop and support your technology is a critical, ongoing resource. In fact, the size and expertise of the development and support team is directly proportional to the depth and success of the integration. No matter which vendor(s) you are working with, it’s important to ask plenty of questions and make sure you are both clear on the short- and long-term goals of your technology road map.