Senior Writer: Rohit Rajpal
Software integration is the practice of combining multiple software systems, applications, or modules into one system. The goal is to create a unified and coherent business environment.
A software integration project may be intended to enable one application to use another application’s data or services, or it may be designed to allow two different applications to share data.
This comprehensive guide will discuss what software integration is, understand the process, and look at software integration examples. Let’s get started.
What is Software Integration?
Software integration is the process of connecting different software components into a single system. This can be done manually or automatically and is often required to make new software systems compatible and improve business processes.
In order to achieve successful system integration, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the individual components that make up the system, as well as how those components interact with each other.
In many cases, integration can be a complex and challenging process, requiring careful planning and execution. However, the result can be a powerful and efficient system that provides significant value to its users.
Why is Software Integration Necessary?
Software integration improves the overall user experience by connecting different applications and making them work seamlessly. Besides, integrated software systems allow for easier team collaboration and prevent errors when accessing multiple systems simultaneously.
Here are some more benefits of application integration, including
- Improved productivity: If you’re using multiple software systems programs, you’ll likely switch tabs whenever you need some information. This can be tedious and time-consuming, especially when switching between programs frequently. Integration can eliminate this problem by connecting all your tools through one central platform or interface.
- Improved security: System integration allows applications to share information easily without worrying about security breaches or data loss.
- Improved performance: Once you connect your tools to one central platform, they’ll be able to communicate quickly and efficiently. This means your employees won’t have to wait for manual input from different departments to do their jobs, which speeds up decision-making.
Additionally, software integration ensures you have a single source of truth (data), including customer data. However, before you start the software integration process, it is vital to identify and replace disparate software in your organization. These tools are designed to operate distinctively without integrating with other software systems.
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Types of Software Integration
There are four types of software integration: star integration, horizontal integration, vertical integration, and common data format integration.
Let’s understand the different types of system integration methods in detail.
1- Star Integration
Star integration is the process in which software subsystems are connected with other subsystems using a point-to-point connection. Star Integration is used when you have multiple applications and want to create a unified system that your employees can use.
For example, suppose you have a customer relationship management (CRM) application and an inventory management system. In that case, you can use star integration to connect them both so they can share information.
2- Horizontal Integration
Horizontal integration refers to connecting multiple similar applications and using the same data field structure. It is the easiest type of software integration to implement, but it’s also the least flexible.
For example, say you have two HR applications for new hires and current employees. These HR systems store employee names, email addresses, departmental information, and more. You can connect the legacy system with horizontal integration to ensure quick data sharing and improve decision-making.
3- Vertical Integration
Vertical integration means that the production floor is tightly monitored and coordinated with higher-level business processes, such as procurement, supply, and quality control. There are two types of vertical integrations:
- Software-to-software integration (S2S): Integrating two different applications. For example, Salesforce allows you to integrate Zapier to connect your CRM data with apps such as Gmail and Trello.
- Hardware-to-software integration (H2S): Connecting hardware devices with cloud services or in-house software. For example, Amazon Web Services provides an API that allows you to access AWS databases from within other applications.
4- Common Data Format Integration
The common data format integration process involves using a common data format to integrate data from disparate systems. A common data format can be any shared language that allows communication between different systems.
This results in increased speed and efficiency when exchanging information between systems and reduced costs due to less work involved in transforming data into a usable format.
6 Steps of the Software Integration Process
The critical steps of the software integration process involve defining requirements, analyzing the information, developing management plans, creating the system, and evaluating its performance.
Whether you use in-house tools or cloud-based applications, these steps will help you create a connected environment that your business teams can use to manage their jobs more efficiently.
1- Collect Definitions, Requirements, and Specifications
The first step to building an integrated software systems environment is defining the requirements and specifications. Here are the key actions involved:
- Elicit business requirements for the new integrated software system.
- Identify the systems processes you want to integrate.
- Define the data integration requirements
- Analyze the capabilities and constraints of the software you want to integrate.
- Determine how the data will flow between the systems and the format it should be stored.
- Define business metrics to measure integration success (e.g., improved productivity and efficiency, delivery time, client satisfaction improvement, streamlined operations, etc.).
2- Analyze the Information
Now that you have a list of requirements and specifications, it’s time to dig into the details. In this software systems integration step, you’ll be performing an analysis of the information surrounding your project.
- What types of data do you store (i.e., sensitive, confidential, non-sensitive), and is the information in your database up-to-date?
- How are those assets accessed, and by whom (i.e., internal vs. external users)?
- What technologies are involved in protecting these assets?
- Would you be using third-party integration software?
3- Develop Architecture and Management Plans
A well-developed architecture plan will help you understand your systems and their relationships. It should also help you to identify your critical assets, as well as your security risks. This should include:
- Understanding the problem and identifying key stakeholders
- Identifying potential solutions to this problem
- Identifying risks associated with each solution
- Determining the scope of your project (i.e., what needs to be done and how long it should take)
- Creating a timeline for your project
- Determining who will be involved in each step of the process
4- Create the Software Integration System
The next step in the integration software systems process is to create the software integration system. The system is what you get when you put all of your components together, and they can communicate with each other.
Here are the two steps to follow:
- Describe the requirements for integrating the system (including availability, security, maintainability, components, technology stack, and persistence) based on your business’s needs.
- Decide on the right app integration approach (common data storage, point-to-point integration, mediated integration, using third-party integration software solutions).
5- Begin Using the Integration System
Once you’ve created integrated software systems, it’s time to use them. Begin by reviewing the system to ensure everything is as planned. Then, educate your employees on how they should use the tools going forward and to whom they should ask their queries.
6- Evaluate System Performance Periodically
Once you’ve completed the first five steps, it’s time to evaluate how well your system is working. Here are some metrics you can use:
- User satisfaction: How happy are your employees? You’ll find this out by getting feedback from them.
- System effectiveness: Does the system do what it is supposed to? Is it helping boost productivity? You can measure it by comparing the expected outcomes of a project with its actual performance.
- System efficiency: Is everyone using the right tools and processes for job tasks? Are there bottlenecks?
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What are Some Examples of Software Integration?
Here are some examples of software integration:
- Integrating your website with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter so users can share content from your site.
- Integrating your accounting system with an e-commerce platform like Magento or Shopify so orders can be automatically processed when a customer places them online.
- Integrating your CRM system with an email marketing platform like MailChimp so marketing emails can be sent automatically when new leads sign up for your service.
- Integrating Google Analytics into WordPress so you can track visitor activity on your website without switching between tools.
Software systems integration is all about connecting the tools you use in your organization. It acts as a single source of truth, improves employee productivity, strengthens security, and improves the functionality of your tools.
Frequently Asked Questions
Software integration refers to the process of integrating different software applications or modules (for example, integrating Salesforce with Oracle). In contrast, data integration is the process of integrating data from multiple sources (for example, data from different departments).
The answer to "is software integration difficult" is yes and no. Integration can be complex because it requires people with technical skills who understand the application's functional and business aspects. However, using SaaS solutions that support native integrations can make things much easier and faster.
Integration of two simple systems can take just a few hours to days. However, the time required may be significantly longer if complex features, multiple modules, and business logic are involved. In some cases, it might even be months or years before the integration is complete.
The most common systems to integrate are Financial management, Human resources management (HRM), Sales force automation (SFA), Customer relationship management (CRM), Payroll and accounting, and Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
The answer is yes if you're a large business or organization. However, if you're a small business dealing with comparatively small chunks of data, you can integrate the most frequently used software sub-systems like CRM, marketing, and sales tools.
While software integration is expensive, it pays for itself if done correctly. The best way to ensure you're doing it right is by involving experienced developers and using the right integration tool. Besides, there is numerous third-party integration software that you can use.