In a recent webinar on clarifying solution-based EAM system integration, members of Pragma’s On Key team laid out several facts that businesses need to consider in order to achieve successful integration.
Dirk Janse van Rensburg, Managing Director of On Key Software Solutions, highlighted one of the primary drivers, which is that integration is imperative if a business wants to become more competitive within its industry. However, integration has always posed several challenges. Stefan Swanepoel, Head of Product Development, pointed out that one of these challenges is building a bridge between your system and the system with which you want to integrate. This might seem daunting, but technology has come a long way and solutions are more sophisticated now and easier to come by.
However, even if a business understands the need for integration, it’s not enough to simply “want to integrate”. JP de Koker, On Key Integrate Product Owner, explained that although a proper integration solution plays a vital role in successfully implementing and using an EAMS or CMMS, organisations often do not consider the real problem they are trying to solve when wanting to integrate. “Before jumping into development, the focus should not be on the fact that you need integration, but that you have a problem for which you need a solution,” he said. “Integration will form all or part of that solution, but focus on what you’re trying to solve.”
JP therefore recommended that companies start by defining the problem so that the scope of the solution is known and understood by all stakeholders. He also recommended having a clear picture of the source data structure and ensuring data integrity. For example, be sure that there are no duplicate records in your system and that the records you have are the most up to date.
Also, critically analyse the impact and role of the solution in the existing architecture. “It’s very important that you have a good picture of the context of your solution and the impact it might have on existing systems,” he said.
Industry best practices
It’s helpful to know that although integration might be intimidating, you don’t need to start from scratch to get to a solution. There are already many established industry best practices to draw from. For example, take the problem of choosing an integration provider. Do you do it in-house or use a best of breed platform as a service type solution? “While there is no best answer to this, best practice shows what aspects to consider so that the option you choose will best suit your organisation,” said JP.
These aspects include:
- The maturity of your software vendor. Consider their technology capabilities and integration solution – for example, will it give you the choice of cloud or on premise?
- The post-implementation maintenance. Does your organisation have the capability, time and materials to maintain the solution?
- Monitoring, error management and the resolution of issues that arise. Does your organisation have a process in place to solve issues that come up?
“Another best practice is to have master records and what we call ‘a single version of the truth’,” said JP. “Then there’s the best practice of refining high level and detailed record definitions, such as asset registers and which detail sits where. Also, consider the interoperability of EAM or CMMS and ERP systems – make sure that the integration is not dependent on both systems being online and available.”
Two final best practices are ensuring secure data transfer (as every person in the business should only be able to access information relevant to them) and monitoring and reporting, in which you need to have a clear view of what is happening to your processes (as these can amount to hundreds of thousands per month, and all these records must reach the target systems correctly).
“After taking heed of best practices, there are six practical steps to apply so you can actually start development,” said JP. “Firstly, identify the source and the target. Where does data come from and go to? Secondly, formalise common or reference data. Make sure the field mappings in the different systems correspond with each other. Thirdly, focus on technical considerations and existing architecture. For example, decide if you will have a local integration on the client network or a cloud-based integration, and figure out if you’ll be able to transfer the data from one application to the next in the protocol that it uses.
“Fourthly, consider staging areas versus an end-to-end system – will data flow from one system to the next, or must it first be placed in some sort of staging table or shared folder? Fifthly, decide if you need a scheduled or real-time data transfer process. Real-time transfer is often instinctively preferred, but it’s important to think this one through! If you require data once a week or month, then a scheduled data transfer will be more than adequate, but if you need the data instantly, then a real-time data transfer process will be essential. And finally, be sure to define integration as part of a documented business process.”
Successful integration IS an obtainable goal
While there is no perfect cut-and-paste formula, applying these best practices and taking these practical steps will remove the angst and the guesswork, placing your organisation firmly on the road towards a successful solution-based integration. As Dirk concluded: “Integration is no longer something to fear. It can be carefully planned and well thought through, and the technology certainly allows for that. In fact, integration should be something that we embrace. If you can embrace it and structure the process, it can really unlock a lot of value.”
Watch the complete webinar here.