So, what is data integration?
Simply put, an integration is a connection between two systems. Let’s call them system A and system B.
An integration will make sure that data flows from one system to another. You might be hosting an event, for which you have set up a registration form. When someone registers for your event through the form, having a data integration will ensure that this person is automatically transferred to whatever system you use to keep track of your registrations. By doing this, you’re removing completely the manual element of transferring participant data from one system to another.
You could also build an integration (or have one built) where data flows both ways – so regardless of whether you’re inserting data into the one system or the other, it will automatically appear in the system that’s connected.
For example, if you want your ERP system to communicate with your webshop, so that e.g. stock is automatically updated. If you do so, you’re ensuring that it’ll always be the correct information you’re showing customers. Also, you’ll save a warehouse or administrative employee to manually count and update stock every time there are changes.
Two types of integrations:
At Twentyfour, we’re often asked: “So, how do you build these integrations?”. And that’s a fair question, because building integrations takes up a large proportion of our time here at Twentyfour.
But, how we build integrations largely depends on the project in question. The starting point for any integration is, of course: What (and how much) should this integration do?
Integrations can fundamentally be divided into two types: Simple integrations and complex integrations.
A simple integration involves a limited (and often small) amount of data that needs to be transferred from system A to system B. This will most often be an integration between two relatively simple systems, such as one’s website and newsletter system. This makes it possible to sign up for the newsletter through a form on the website. This means that the integration’s function is “solely” to ensure that data that is filled out on the website is transferred to the newsletter system, so that subscribers will automatically start the journey you’ve prepared for them. Such a simple integration will usually not be a major financial undertaking.
But there are also much more complex integrations. An example could be a connection (integration) between one’s webshop and accounting system. Naturally, the complexity of such integrations will depend on the complexity of the business, but typically this kind of integration will be relatively heavy compared to the integration type above.
When you integrate your webshop and accounting system, there’s a ton of factors to take into consideration; maybe you have a complex product with many different categories. Or maybe your product is sold in different countries, which means that there’ll be different currency codes you need to incorporate into the system – and that you need to make sure is consistent across your webshop and ERP systems. So, your accounting system will have a certain logic that is important to incorporate in your webshop system. It’s also important that it can handle your customers using and clicking around the website and webshop. These types of integrations will take longer to build than simple integrations – but will, naturally, also automate a larger degree of your business.
Our examples of good integrations:
At Twentyfour, we have years of experience with simple and (particularly) complex integrations across industries and systems. Therefore, it’s only natural that we have two concrete examples of data integrations we’ve built for customers who’ve needed a simple and complex integration, respectively.
Concrete example of a simple integration:
This example is one that we’ve used previously in this blog post – but this is also because it’s a really good example of a simple integration that can save you a lot of time typing in everything manually.
We had a customer approach us because they needed help connecting their website with their newsletter through an integration. This customer already had a system in place to collect data from their newsletter, but they needed an integration between the two systems. So, before they approached us, their process was as follows: Once the form had been filled out on the website by their customer, this information was sent to them in an email that they needed to manually insert into their newsletter system to send this to their customer. So, signing up recipients for their newsletter involved a great deal of manual (and time consuming) work.
What we did was to automate the entire process through an integration between the website and newsletter system. Through this, the filled out information will automatically flow from the website to the newsletter system – and our customer therefore only needs to focus on producing exciting content for their newsletter. This is both smart, time-saving, and frees up a ton of resources.
Direct integration between two systems or through data integration tools?
Overall (and simplified for the purpose of this blog posts), there’s two ways you can approach an integration project: You can create the integrations directly between two (or more) systems, or you can integrate the systems using an integration tool.
We will, without a doubt, recommend using an integration tool for your integrations. Let us explain what this entails, and why we believe this to be the best solution.
When running a business, and especially a business with an online component, you’ll have a number of systems that ensure the business runs smoothly. These systems might be different depending on the business – but the importance of them working as planned is the same, regardless of where and how you do business.
Maybe System A and System B have already been connected, but what then when the rest of the system landscape needs to be optimized digitally? Traditionally, you’ll start with a, then b, c, d, and so on, and so on, and so on. The first (and potentially the second) optimization will be somewhat easily managed – but the further down the system landscape we move, the harder it will be to replace the first system.
And if System A first starts to fail, the entire chain of systems will encounter problems. Or what if you grow your business and decide to replace system A because it no longer fits your business needs? Then your entire data flow will come crashing down.
That’s why you’ll want a data architecture that’s centered around a decentralized unit. This sounds more confusing than it is – promise.
When you connect towards the middle (both ways) through a decentralized unit (a robot) that communicates with all systems, you’re building a system that’s easier to scale. Also, as you grow, you’ll often need more systems to meet increased demand – and this is where it becomes important to have built a data architecture that’s scaleable.
Another benefit is also that such a setup will make it possible to remove or replace a system, without having the rest of the data flow collapse. You’ll typically have a key system or main system that handles a great amount of data and is important to your business. Most likely, this will be your accounting system. If your business needs change, it will be very difficult for you to replace your accounting system if you haven’t integrated towards the middle – because, if you take out your key system, the rest of the organization dies. But, if you, on the other hand, have used an integration tool and integrated towards the middle, you can replace the old system with a new one whenever you need to. For obvious reasons, this is a major advantage for your business.
Here, we use our own integration engine, KOEBT, for building large integrations. KOEBT is a complete technical integration that acts as the decentralized unit in the middle, making sure that all systems communicate – at all times.
In addition to the above, KOEBT also has a dashboard that ensures uptime across all sales channels – even if the ERP system should break down for a while. And that is actually a remedy for one of the greatest issues that can arise in an integration project; downtime on single systems while the integration is being built.
KOEBT automatically and constantly stores a backup of the newest data, ensuring that everything can continue as planned, even if an important system like the ERP system breaks down or is out of service for an hour or two due to updates.
Why do I need data and system integrations?
It’s no secret that data and system integrations can be quite the financial undertaking. But, at the same time it also yields quite the economic reward, so be careful not to write off an investment in integrations too quickly.
If you want to optimize your business’ process and minimize (or remove completely) manual type work, having integrations built is a no-brainer. When you remove manual work, you are also releasing employee resources, so you can have your best hands and minds working on something that will create value to your business – and let technology take care of the things that don’t require human involvement to be valuable.
Benefits of data and system integrations:
- An integration will save you a lot of time typing everything in manually to system a and b (and c, and d, and…)
- Good integrations will completely remove human errors. And significantly reduce general mistakes as everything is put in process through a robot
- An obvious advantage is, of course, also that you’ll be speeding everything up significantly by automating it
- Integrations make scaling your business easier
- Increases productivity through better resource allocation
- All your data can be both easier and better managed and analyzed through data and system integrations
- And many many more, that we’d happily have a chat about, if you’re interested in hearing more
How do I get started with an integration project?
Integrations can quickly be exaggerated – but even though they’re important and a great help to many businesses, they don’t necessarily have to be all that complicated (or expensive).
You can easily start off with a small, simple data integration between two systems, and then gradually build from that. Do you maybe have systems where it would be super helpful if they communicated with each other? That could, as an example, be (like our previous example) the contact form on your website and your newsletter. By integrating the two, your customers’ information will automatically be forwarded to the system you’re using for your newsletter. And then you can focus on producing and delivering valuable content to your recipients – instead of manually moving data from one system to another, and double (perhaps triple) checking that everything has been moved correctly. You can just find comfort in the fact that the integration is operating and taking care of everything behind the scenes.
So, to answer the question of how you get started with an integration project, step one will always be to understand your need. Do you need a simple integration between two systems, or a more complex integration between several systems?
No matter your need, we’d love to have a chat about the types of integration that would be best suited for your business.