As the saying goes, teamwork makes the dream work, and working together is often how we get the most positive results. When it comes to business, one of the best ways to facilitate teamwork is through system integration, which is usually applied to IT technology, and simply means connecting different subsystems together into a larger system that works as a whole.
Two of the main ways businesses achieve this are through enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. The former integrates business applications which relate to things like the supply chain, HR and sales into a centralized system through which everything can be accessed. A CRM system does the same for customer relationship tools, including databases containing customer data, social media monitoring tools and marketing apps. ERP and CRM software also can be integrated with one another, as well as other company IT systems.
So, now that we’ve defined system integration, what are its benefits in practice?
1. Improve efficiency
Many businesses struggle with the huge amount of data they collect and store internally, from both clients and suppliers, and this difficulty is exacerbated when multiple systems are used simultaneously. For example, if the marketing and sales teams use separate software, they will need to either import or replicate information between them. This is not only time-consuming but poses a great risk of human error and discrepancies in the data, which can be hugely costly for a business. However, by integrating these systems with third-party software, these scenarios can be avoided.
Take EASA’s Excel to web app, which can be used to improve how spreadsheets are handled across different systems. Although many Excel tools simply replace spreadsheets with new database applications, this is no good for those who want to retain macros, VBAs and other embedded logic within these files. This is because it’s difficult, and sometimes impossible, to convert or transfer this information. EASA, however, uses the actual logic within the spreadsheets, with the Excel files themselves acting as the engine of the web app.
Here, the underlying Excel file and logic remain secure within the corporate network (or cloud), allowing users to simply input data and obtain the resulting outputs, without needing to edit the files themselves. And because EASA can be integrated with database systems like SQL or Oracle, or systems that sit on a database such as Salesforce or ERP platforms, any data generated in these programmes will be automatically saved into the appropriate databases, preventing businesses from having to transfer or convert any spreadsheets across systems.
2. Reduces costs
System integration can help a business cut costs in many ways, most obviously through reducing how many different software applications they have to pay for on a monthly basis. ERP and CRM applications often contain everything a business needs for the relevant departments, so they no longer need dozens of different subscriptions for separate systems. Oracle Cloud ERP, for example, can help businesses manage everything from their finances and project management, to their supply chains and procurement processes.
Enterprises can also save money by refining their business processes in a manner which saves them valuable time. Improved data visibility also allows businesses to manage their finances more efficiently, directly reducing budget waste and improving cash flow optimization. Other potential financial benefits of system integration include the elimination of paper costs, as data is stored electronically in a central cloud server, and lower staff training costs, as there will be fewer programs to learn about.
3. Improves security
The more applications a business uses, the greater the potential attack surface, a term which relates to how many routes hackers have to infiltrate an organisation. Having multiple systems in place also makes data security even more difficult, as each must be properly protected. By using integration to reduce the number of systems in place, the attack surface is reduced, and companies can enforce data security measures in a much more manageable way.
Indeed, many CRM and ERP providers have numerous data security features to make the job that much easier. The likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure have large, hugely experienced and full-time security teams to help troubleshoot these issues in their programs, while tools such as SAP ERP, Odoo and Dolibarr all have access control tools. By giving businesses the ability to choose who can and can’t access specific data internally, the attack surface shrinks further still.
Another major security problem with separate systems is the chance for data to end up in the wrong hands when sent between employees. It’s all too easy for hackers to target emails and other transfer methods, putting valuable information at risk of theft. However, integration will ensure that data is kept in one place, so there’s no need to import it from one system to another.