An inevitable consequence of business growth is that companies often quickly add new applications to their IT ecosystems to fuel greater productivity and efficiency — from human resources (HR) systems to new employee collaboration tools. And although these systems can indeed offer significant improvements, a growing application ecosystem can eventually create more problems than it solves, particularly if those systems aren’t integrated. Disconnected applications create a host of issues, from siloed data to redundant processes, inefficient workflows and a lack of companywide insights.

Systems integration offers a way to connect disparate applications so they work and grow together as companies scale, providing crucial benefits, from improved data accuracy to sharper decision-making. This article defines systems integration and explains how companies can reap the rewards of connected applications.

What Is Systems Integration?

Systems integration is the process of linking separate software applications to create a unified and coordinated application environment. Connecting systems and data throughout an organization can dramatically streamline operations, reduce redundant processes and enable real-time data access across departments. By enabling seamless communication among technologies, companies can achieve a holistic view of their operations, make informed decisions faster and respond to market changes with greater agility. Integration also allows companies to automate business processes across applications and departments, leading to more accurate and consistent data and the ability to leverage real-time information for strategic planning.

The systems integration process is often driven by technology, and companies have several options to facilitate the process. Systems integrators are third-party providers that build application ecosystems for clients by combining hardware, software, networking and storage products from multiple vendors. Systems integrators can be costly, which is why some companies opt for custom-built solutions, such as application programming interfaces (APIs), middleware and integration platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) tools. APIs are like sets of instructions that allow applications to communicate and share. Middleware serves as a translator, helping systems that speak different “languages” understand each other. iPaaS is a cloud-based platform that connects, manages and governs a wide range of APIs and middleware within a unified interface.

Key Takeaways

  • As companies grow, they often purchase applications to help increase productivity and efficiency.
  • If these new applications aren’t integrated, however, companies can find themselves with siloed operations and data, which lead to redundant work, increased errors, poor collaboration and a lack of insight into operations.
  • Systems integration is the process of using various technologies, such as APIs and middleware, to connect applications, streamline workflows and build a shared data repository. Some companies choose to hire third-party systems integrators to facilitate integration.
  • Systems integration has wide-ranging benefits, including increased productivity and efficiency, enhanced decision-making, higher customer satisfaction, cost savings and greater agility.

Systems Integration Explained

Systems integration leverages various technologies, including middleware, APIs, iPaaS tools and custom-coded solutions, to build seamless links and data flow among systems. Selecting the right integration method depends on several factors, including the existing IT infrastructure, the complexity of the integration needed, scalability and a company’s long-term technology roadmap.

The process often involves several key phases. In the planning phase, companies define their goals and create an integration blueprint. The next phase is implementation, where the integration solutions are developed and deployed. This is followed by testing to ensure that the integrated system operates as intended. Finally, in the maintenance phase, companies can address any issues and adapt to changing needs over time.

Systems integration isn’t without its challenges, including the complexity of merging systems with varying degrees of compatibility and the potential for significant upfront costs for technology or systems integrators. It can also require significant ongoing maintenance to ensure stable links among systems as each gets updated. And without maintenance, companies can experience significant downtime. According to a recent survey by Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, a single hour of downtime can cost a company up to $1 million. Prioritizing data security and employing a flexible architecture are crucial to mitigate risks and maximize the benefits of integration efforts.

9 Benefits of Systems Integration

At the heart of systems integration is building a central repository for shared data, but the impact goes much further. Shared data provides the foundation for a smarter, more agile organization that collaborates more efficiently across departments to provide greater focus on customer needs. Successful systems integration can result in the following important benefits.

benefits system integration
Systems integration builds a harmonious application ecosystem that leads to a smarter, more agile organization.

1. Efficiency and Cost Savings

When systems aren’t integrated, process inefficiencies and rising costs become an issue. For example, workers in different departments often end up entering the same data into disparate systems. Not only does that create extra work, but it also increases the risk of errors and data discrepancies. Systems integration streamlines operations by automating data entry. When data is entered into one system, it automatically populates in other systems, reducing labor costs and errors.

To maximize efficiency and cost savings from systems integration, companies should focus on incremental integration, starting with the most critical systems to generate quick wins and build momentum. In addition, leveraging cloud-based integration platforms can offer scalability and reduce the need for expensive hardware investments, further reducing costs.

2. Performance and Productivity Enhancements

Separate systems almost inevitably lead to manual data entry across departments, as well as data silos and an inability to access real-time information. In a business environment that demands agility, this can dramatically hinder performance, productivity and decision-making. A primary benefit of systems integration is the creation of a central repository of data and automated workflows among systems, which allows employees to access consistent information whenever they need it, boosting productivity. Integrating a customer relationship management (CRM) system with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, for example, can streamline customer service and order fulfillment processes, impacting both employee efficiency and customer satisfaction. Additionally, using data analytics tools with consolidated data extends the benefits of systems integration by improving data-driven decisions.

3. Business Growth and Scalability

As companies add new applications to their IT stacks, they need to be careful that disconnected data doesn’t create bottlenecks in decision-making processes, which can severely limit agility, growth and scalability. Systems integration makes sure all systems communicate seamlessly, thereby fueling business growth by allowing companies to adapt and expand operations without the constraints of disjointed information systems. For example, integrating sales, inventory and customer service systems facilitates real-time updates on stock levels. This creates more efficient and scalable inventory management and provides customer service representatives with immediate access to accurate product information to deliver better customer experiences.

4. Data Management and Quality

Storing data in siloed, disconnected applications is likely to create data inconsistencies, inaccuracies and inefficiencies that lead to poor decision-making and raise the potential for compliance violations. Integrated systems improve data quality by automating data processes, which reduces the risk of human error and ensures consistent, accurate information across multiple systems — a crucial factor for reliable analytics and strategic planning. Systems integration also consolidates data into a single repository, creating a single source of truth for everyone who uses it.

This comprehensive approach to data management fuels better analysis, forecasting and strategic decision-making. As a result, businesses benefit from improved operational efficiency and more reliable insights.

A helpful tip for improving data management and quality: Companies should implement data governance practices from the outset to ensure that data remains clean, secure and well-managed as systems are integrated.

5. Operational Automation

A recent survey by Digibee found that enabling automation is one of the top three reasons why businesses pursue systems integration. In doing so, they can lay the groundwork for companywide automation to streamline workflows and processes that were previously manual and time-consuming, such as data entry and synchronization across platforms. For example, when a customer places an order, an integrated system can automatically update inventory, notify the shipping department and generate an invoice without human intervention. This not only speeds up operations, but also reduces the likelihood of errors and ensures that all parts of the business have access to real-time data.

By automating routine tasks, systems integration frees up employees to focus on more strategic work, enhancing overall productivity and business agility. To optimize operational automation during systems integration, companies need to review the technical specifications of current software before initiating the integration process. This can help identify optimal areas for automation, as well as potential bottlenecks.

6. Decision Support and Collaboration

Disjointed systems create disjointed data. Manual data syncing and a lack of real-time reporting can lead to slower decision-making, inefficiencies and minimal collaboration among teams. In fact, recent research from AI search engine company Coveo shows that workers spend an average of 20 hours per week searching for information. Systems integration improves decision support and collaboration by breaking down data silos, automating data synchronization and providing a centralized platform for real-time information sharing. Seamless access to real-time data builds cross-system communication to empower better decision-making. It also encourages teams to work cohesively and make decisions based on accurate, up-to-date information, ultimately driving growth and customer satisfaction.

7. Safety and Security

Disconnected systems leave businesses vulnerable to data breaches and cyber threats because they often lack unified security protocols, making it easier for bad actors to exploit gaps and access sensitive data. This can result in serious financial and reputational damage. According to Statista, the average cost of a data breach in the United States last year amounted to $9.48 million. Systems integration augments safety and security by creating a unified platform for managing and monitoring diverse systems, which simplifies the detection of, and response to, security incidents. For example, integrating security protocols across systems ensures consistent application of firewalls, encryption and access controls, which fortify defenses against unauthorized intrusions. Companies should adopt a proactive approach to security by conducting regular risk assessments and implementing a robust framework tailored to their integrated environments.

8. Customer-Centric Benefits

Fragmented, siloed customer data can result in poor communication, inefficient processes and a lack of personalized service. This can ultimately lead to customer dissatisfaction and loss of business. Systems integration is designed to help businesses provide a seamless and personalized customer experience by making sure customer data is consistent across all touchpoints, thereby facilitating a more cohesive and satisfying customer experience. It enables businesses to have a complete view of their customers, which creates significant benefits, including improved communication, increased customer retention and loyalty, more effective targeted marketing and greater upselling opportunities.

9. Competitive and Financial Edge

The competitive and financial benefits of systems integration are substantial. By providing a unified view of data from various systems, companies can work smarter, using data analysis tools to identify areas for improvement and make informed decisions based on accurate and consistent data. Systems integration also improves customer service and communication by breaking down silos, centralizing information and streamlining processes. Additionally, connecting systems and automating tasks lead to more efficient operations, lower costs and improved productivity, all of which boost the bottom line.

Realize the Benefits of Systems Integration With NetSuite

ERP systems provide a unique solution to systems integration because, by definition, they aim to connect multiple operational systems across an organization, such as finance, HR, CRM and supply chain management. Not all ERP systems are alike, however. While many have components for these operational functions, those components aren’t always seamlessly integrated, meaning additional cost and effort are required to create a comprehensive, unified solution. NetSuite ERP, on the other hand, leverages a 100% cloud-based solution to offer connected modules that work seamlessly together out of the box, giving customers a consolidated view of data and processes for seamless collaboration, increased efficiency, streamlined workflows and reduced data redundancies.

NetSuite also simplifies integration with third-party applications through its SuiteCloud tool, which provides an easy-to-use platform for connecting NetSuite ERP with external data sources or business systems. In addition, NetSuite’s SuiteApp marketplace leverages the SuiteCloud platform to offer more than 600 pre-built integrations or extensions with third-party applications.

Maintaining an application ecosystem is a lot like gardening: Both require regular monitoring, pruning and nurturing to maintain balance and healthy growth. Systems integration is a critical way for businesses to get systems to work together harmoniously and adapt to ever-changing conditions, ultimately ensuring that the entire ecosystem grows seamlessly and efficiently.

Systems Integration FAQs

What are some of the benefits of integration?

The benefits of integration include improved data access, real-time reporting, enhanced customer experience, greater productivity and efficiency, improved data security, reduced manual effort and the ability to make better decisions based on a more accurate view of customers and organizational health.

Why do you need systems integration?

Systems integration is necessary because it enhances data accuracy and consistency by connecting disparate systems. It also increases efficiency by automating processes and reducing manual tasks. In addition, it can lead to significant cost savings and improved decision-making.

What are three benefits of systems integration?

Three key benefits of systems integration are enhanced data accuracy and consistency, improved productivity and increased customer satisfaction.

What are the benefits of integration in the workplace?

Integration in the workplace streamlines processes, enhances collaboration and improves data accessibility, leading to increased efficiency and productivity, as well as better decision-making and innovation. Ultimately, systems integration contributes to a more agile and responsive organization, capable of adapting to changes and challenges more effectively.