In our personal and business life integration is something we strive for, we just call it something else. In our Social Life its about our circle of friends, each knowing each other, each being there for us when we have problems or just want to have some fun. In our business life it’s called Networking, going off to events early in the morning, lunchtime and evening, learning about other businesses trying to find ways we can work together to create something better. But when you are back at your desk fighting with your business process integration is often overlooked.

Now, don’t get me wrong, integration in the business process and technology has always been there, its just been difficult to implement or has been hindered by a lack of choice. But this is starting to change and integration will become more of a focus over the coming years..

This change is going to come in two ways, firstly people have access to much bigger, and better systems than they had a few years ago.  A CRM system was only for the hard core sales person and tended to be isolated, now you have access to CRM systems for every level of sales, from the simple lead system through to full blown sales force automation, this means people are using better applications than they used to, and because of this they are expecting more from their systems.  I don’t want to have to re-type customers details when I create an Invoice I want my invoice application to suck the sales order data from my CRM system, and my invoicing system should push my invoice into my accounts.  If I was a tangible product company I would also want my suppliers to integrate so I could easily reorder stock and see the suppliers availability etc.

Secondly, the mobile app has become more prolific than anyone could have thought, (with perhaps the exception of Mr Jobs).  Looking at my phone I have 94 apps, just 25 of them I would class as standalone, the other 69 integrate into online systems either dragging data down to my phone and/or pushing it back into what is called the’ backend system’. Best practice in developing such systems is to create an interface for the exchange of data, once this interface is designed (in Techy speak its an ‘Application Programming Interface or API) its not a big step to allow others to use it either through add-ons to existing systems or bespoke application development. Lets use Dropbox as example. Dropbox for those of you who do not know is an extremely well executed online file system that allows users to keep multiple PC’s in sync, share folders of files with colleagues and friends and also act as backup for your data.  Dropbox’s API allows mobile users to save documents, photographs, pictures, pretty much anything that can be created on a Smartphone or Tablet into the Dropbox system and the magic of Dropbox’s syncing system means soon after saving its available on all your other Dropbox connected devices and  to friends. So the rise of the mobile device, will drive more and more integration with other systems.

This environment of integration is always changing and becoming more intuitive, and that is what lead me to write this post.  As a Google Apps Reseller I love the ecosphere that is appearing around it, everyone wants to integrate with the central hub of data, and yesterday that integration got a little bit better. In the past I have used Any.Do, a simple task manager, but it never quite worked in my process, but recently they have created a widget (aka Integration) that sits in my Email window and allows me to create and schedule a task directly from the email.  This is then sync’d with all my mobile connected devices.

So this all sounds amazing, all our apps integrated, the integration mechanism happening in the background without our input but what’s the catch and what should you consider.

  • Choice, everybody is trying to get in on the act, doing a search on Google for ‘CRM System’ brings back 21m results, no doubt lots of duplicates and lots of blog posts etc, but looking at the first page including ads etc I counted 19 different CRM systems.  I expect most of these systems will have integration into differing apps, so spend time looking at alternatives, if you have a core system, perhaps your accounts software, speak to the suppliers, see what integrations they know of.
  • One or Many, do you opt for a system that incorporates most of the functionality you require or look to a system that integrates well with others.  The former may mean you are restricted and locked in, the latter may mean more relationships to administer.
  • Lock In, is there an easy path to change if another supplier would suit you better in a few months tim.  Google has the Data Liberation Front, a team dedicated to making it easy to extract your data from Google if you want to move.
  • Functionality and Cost, nine times out of ten there is a trade off between cost and functionality. Make sure you know what the minimum functionality is you require and the maximum you are willing to pay.

So, next time you are out Integrating with your Circle of Friends or Networking at a lunchtime event don’t forget to think about how your process and systems could be Integrating as well.