An aligned and integrated tech stack can improve how your business operates.
“The whole idea with any systems integration is that you’re taking disparate components and trying to make them talk to each other to function as one and form one holistic view,” says Dave Lapointe, New Breed’s Director of Integrations and Applications. “It’s taking systems and making sure they can communicate and share data. You’re trying to break down silos so that your entire business process flows more smoothly.”
However, just because you can technically create an integration doesn’t mean you should. Setting key integration goals can help you ensure your integrations actually address business needs and have a positive impact over time.
What Are Key Integration Goals?
Key integration goals are essentially a checklist of items that you want a systems integration to accomplish.
“I kind of look at it in two pieces: You have your business goals, your use case and your narrative about what you’re to accomplish,” Dave says, “And then you have the intrinsic technical goals that every project should have.”
The technical goals tend to be consistent from project to project, but the business goal will vary from integration to integration.
The business goal is the problem you’re trying to solve: automating a manual process, providing better visibility into an aspect of the business, increasing a team’s efficiency, etc.
After you’ve identified what an integration should accomplish for your business, then you need to consider what the integration will need to accomplish from a technical perspective. Ask questions like:
- Does the integration work?
- Is the data being passed between systems valid?
- Can it handle the required data volume?
- Can it accommodate the intended use case?
- Does it meet security requirements?
- Can it scale?
Why Integration Projects Need to Start with Setting Goals
You shouldn’t be doing integrations just because you have the capability. There needs to be a broader business purpose. Establishing key integration goals will help you ensure that the work you do will actually solve the challenge at hand and continue to be effective over time.
“Tell me the story of what it is exactly that you’re trying to accomplish and let’s start there,” Dave says. “A lot of times people are suggesting solutions to problems they don’t have or thinking a solution will solve a problem when it’s not even in the same domain.”
Aligning key stakeholders around what they’re hoping to solve will enable you to come up with the best way to address the problem. This involves not just considering what technology you’ll integrate and how data will be exchanged, but also what the implications of that process will be.
“When you’re talking about systems integrations, oftentimes it’s not a one-to-one thing. You’re doing something within a bigger ecosystem. So it’s really important to take the time to identify what are the consequences upstream of what you’re doing,” Dave says.
What are all the systems and stakeholders that will be impacted? Will solving a problem for one team potentially cause issues for another? For example, if an integration leads to sales data being pulled directly into your accounting system, could that potentially cause data quality issues for your accounting team? Or, if an integration between your marketing automation platform and CRM would add manual steps for sales, will that prevent the new process from being adopted?
Often people making integration requests aren’t technical; they’re marketers, sales team members, project managers, etc. So, you need to help them think through everything that needs to be considered, not just from a technical perspective but also from a data integrity and business process perspective as well. Ultimately, these considerations will impact the integration’s ability to meet its goal.
This generally involves a preliminary step of data analysis.
“Are we coming into a situation where it’s truly just exchanging data between systems, or is part of the project going to be data cleanup? What’s the state of affairs with the data that we’re going to be sending back and forth? Are there common identifiers to establish relationships, or will those have to be developed? Are there standards for the data? Are there known issues — e.g., duplicates — that people are already aware of within their organization?” Dave prompts.
The Risks of Not Setting Key Integration Goals
Setting key integration goals forces you to think through the desired outcomes for a project in addition to the potential consequences.
“With all these disconnected architectures, the proliferation of APIs and the new microservices paradigm, it can lead to the introduction of multiple points of failure,” Dave says. “The biggest risk of not thinking through an integration is the potential to corrupt the entire tech stack.”
The work you’re doing isn’t going to be isolated to a single platform, so issues can filter through to a much larger ecosystem.
The other major risk of not setting these goals at the outset of an integration project is short-sightedness.
Part of the process of setting key integration goals and working toward them throughout the project is constantly re-evaluating what you’re doing to ensure it still makes sense. Without having these goals guiding you, you run the risk of creating something that might solve an immediate problem but won’t accomplish what you need it to in the long run.
“The whole point of integrating these systems is to break down silos that traditionally exist,” Dave says. “Without giving thought to the bigger picture, you run a risk of building the exact same monolithic silo that you’re trying to break down.”
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.