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The Imperative for Data-Driven Enterprises: Integration and Automation

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In today’s challenging economic landscape, gaining a competitive edge and optimising efficiency have become paramount for businesses. According to Oracle, enhancing application integration strategies is a top priority for chief operating officers in 2024.

The key to achieving this advantage lies in understanding automation and integration. While automation is a well-understood concept, integration may be less familiar. Integration involves connecting different apps and services within an organisation, as well as with third parties. It determines how effectively you can connect your apps and services to suppliers, customers, and partners.

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Historically, large enterprises have had an upper hand, with budgets to afford expensive automation and integration tools that streamline operations. However, in recent years, we have witnessed a levelling of the playing field as these tools become more accessible to medium-sized businesses.

Quantifying the Risks

While the necessity for an integration and automation strategy may not be immediately apparent when starting a business, its importance becomes increasingly evident as the business scales.

Without integration, businesses risk delayed turnaround of processing information and high rates of data-related errors. This can negatively impact customer satisfaction and impede customer retention. As Forbes notes, retaining customers can mean the difference between going out of business or thriving.

Furthermore, as the business grows, a lack of integration can result in different departments losing sight of data sets. For example, the sales team may see one version of the data, while the finance team sees another. This lack of data parity can create a silo effect within the business, leading to poor decision-making at an organisational level.

Another risk without a well-crafted implementation strategy is that the business defaults to dealing with its data via hand-capture, which is slow and inaccurate; custom dev scripts, which fosters fragmentation; or citizen integration tools, which are often inflexible. Moreover, these tools often operate on a pay-as-you-go business model, making it more expensive to integrate as the business grows and requires more integration.

Mid-sized enterprises have previously found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. They need implementation to streamline their business processes and keep up with the influx of data that characterises this era, while traditionally finding it too expensive to do so.

Fortunately, the growth of the cloud and cloud-based solutions like Flowgear has afforded them another option. Now, medium-sized businesses have access to a solution that had previously been reserved for the biggest enterprises with deep pockets, affordably.

Strategies for Integration

Even with implementation and automation solutions within reach, businesses still require a carefully thought-out implementation strategy.

What many don’t realise is that, like software, integration has a lifecycle.

While organisations need to move quickly with integrating their data, they then need to slow down on the changes they make. The reason being that a great deal of change will have a far-reaching impact, particularly as the business becomes more complex and has more data, apps, and services it needs to integrate.

Even so, businesses can’t really avoid making changes to their integration and automation entirely. Some triggers for change include business procedure changes, onboarding or offboarding of products they are selling, vendor API or product changes, or if there has been an acquisition or merger, and they need to consolidate their intellectual property.

What can make dealing with integration a great deal easier is starting on a firm footing. Even before choosing an integration platform, organisations would be well served by building a catalogue that documents all the apps and services in use within the organisation.

It can be immensely valuable to know, from the outset, the types of information to which each app is mapped. For example, being able to quantify which apps have customer data, whether the data set it refers to is updated daily, weekly or monthly, and which departments rely on those datasets all help greatly when it comes to prioritisation.

When considering one’s integration and automation strategy, it is also important to come to terms with the fact that no organisation will be 100% error-free. Rather, organisations should aim for their integration to have a 90 to 99% success rate. That remaining 10% to 1% respectively can still be dealt with by one’s personnel.

Getting Started

For those companies that are getting started with integration and automation, one of the first decisions mid-sized organisations need to make is whether they will go a self-service or outsourcing route, or a middle ground between the two.

“I cannot recommend that businesses try to run an integration and automation platform on their own if their IT department is already stretched to capacity. For them, outsourcing may be a better option. Alternatively, and one avenue I have seen many customers opt for, is the middle ground of co-building. This gives customers a level of independence while also enabling them to be steered through the intricacies of integrating and automating their business processes,” says Daniel Chilcott.

As with so many IT solutions, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all product when it comes to integration and automation. Essential as they are to a business’s success, they are not simple. While they do require a fair amount of planning and thought, the long-term benefits for business sustainability are well worth the effort.

Read next: Harnessing data for financial inclusion: Mukuru’s top insights

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