Enterprise software strategies tend to go in cycles, particularly for implementing business applications, but whatever the dominant approach, fundamental challenges such as system integration may be left unresolved. Over the past 30 years, we’ve gone from best-in-class to enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite and back to best-in-class with the rise of software as a service (SaaS). SaaS has made it easy to get application instances up and running, giving customers access to world-class functionality from different vendors, but also causing system integration issues overnight.
Historically, to solve this challenge, we’ve seen users adopt a point-to-point solution, whether it’s a tool they create themselves or a developer to write application programming interfaces (APIs) or use native adapters. Just as the first hurdles are overcome, the next application is added to the landscape, requiring one more solution. Over time, it leads to a “rat’s nest” of peer-to-peer solutions, ending in a maintenance mess and a role-based or data security nightmare because applications are everywhere.
It can also create a release management nightmare, as IT teams must take all of these pieces and put them together to ensure that the enterprise software environment is the sum of its parts. The solution to this systems integration challenge must be more holistic than just having applications talk to each other. The strategy should ensure that security, release management, monitoring, scheduling, workflow, bug catching, and alerting are built into the approach from the start. Although system integration looks like the problem, the real question is not “How do I do system integration?” but “How do I keep all my systems modern and operational 20 years beyond when they were originally designed?”
Do not move away from your IP and way of doing business
The goal should be to keep the core investment viable and modern, with the freedom to easily innovate at the edges. This can be achieved by considering system integration during any transformation process. It should involve adopting existing business systems, not replacing them. These systems should become the foundation for your company’s future growth and innovation. They are fundamental to your intellectual property and way of doing business, with over a decade of functionality built into your internal ERP system. Throwing away all of that means you’re walking away from 10 years of differentiation and customizations.
This is not the approach suggested by many software vendors. They usually have a published certification matrix, which says that if you have a certain version of ERP, you must use only approved and certified browsers, operating systems, Java versions, and databases. For those with vendor support, customers must use the certified tools because vendors can only test a certain 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 in-house ERP system, you’re connecting to a SaaS cloud model, and you have to deal with constantly updating the SaaS application, which, in turn, requires the in-house ERP system to constantly update its adapters to be in sync.
The prospect of updating your internal ERP system once a month to comply with regulations is something that very few customers want to face.
But it doesn’t have to be so difficult. We always recommend analyzing your needs today and leveraging what you already have, connecting them to external data sources by building interfaces and standards around the core ERP to minimize the pain of system integration. Modern systems must be open system 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 disrupt existing intellectual property. .
There are many system integration platforms for enabling enterprise technologies to talk to each other without using vendor adapters. Among the ways to allow applications to interoperate, you can:
- Choose peer-to-peer solutions to enable applications to work together in unique ways. Write your own custom apps if you think the integration functionality in a point-to-point solution is more than you need and you have specific requirements.
- Use enterprise-grade software like MuleSoft and Tibco to take a centralized approach to system integration, workflows, security, version management, synchronization, version control and monitoring. However, this can make it confusing and expensive if you’re juggling multiple technologies and vendors. If you have the right partner, who understands both the complexities and opportunities of integrating applications with your core internal ERP, you will have the freedom of the certification matrix to innovate and not disrupt your IP without fear of being unsupported or unsupported. -obedient.
- Choose a smart journey towards digital transformation. Enterprise technology has always looked for ways to improve and simplify without requiring a complete overhaul of existing technology environments. For example, VMWare put an interface between the hardware and the application to maintain business continuity by switching between hardware without having to reinstall everything because the power went out.
If you create a level of separation between your core ERP investment and all these innovative top-tier applications by employing the right interface, you shouldn’t have to worry about your applications. Using the right tools will also give you greater confidence that you can solve the system integration challenge and, more importantly, give you greater flexibility in how you approach modernization.
The decision to upgrade or not becomes a more logical process of elimination where you evaluate criteria to justify whether an upgrade is necessary, because with the right tools, you may not need to upgrade to the latest version of an application to continue innovating. Some of the key drivers to consider in upgrade decisions are:
- Will an upgrade solve real business goals or challenges?
- Will an update give me access to new features or functionality that I will actually use?
- Can I resolve compatibility or system integration issues without upgrading through less disruptive and less expensive tools?
- Is performance suffering and if so, what is causing that performance issue and will an update alone address the root cause?
Going forward, when considering the issue of system integration, CIOs need to embed alternative, modernization, and future-ready approaches into the DNA of their strategies from the very beginning of a project. The ambition must be to solve system integration not only for the immediate challenge, but also for the future. This will force organizations to create standards and policies that avoid the need for one-size-fits-all solutions every time there is a system integration problem.
Above all, adopting this mindset will avoid succumbing to the vendor’s apparent argument that upgrading is the only way to solve system integration. System integration and modernization are intertwined, but modernization without upgrade should become a mantra that all IT departments are happy to adopt.
Eric Helmer is CTO at Rimini Street, where he advises clients on innovative strategic initiatives that align with corporate long-term financial, technical, and functional goals across multiple applications, including Oracle, SAP, IBM, and Microsoft.