It’s no secret that the corporate world is rapidly moving toward being digitally driven as a key priority. There are thousands of articles and blog posts each day that post insights, learnings and perspectives on this topic from a near-kaleidoscopic range of viewpoints, because it touches almost every aspect of business. This blog looks at real time data integration as a critical component of becoming a truly digital enterprise.
In large measure this trend has been led by large businesses which have the resources (financial and staff) to drive the needed change, but small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) need to make the transition to digitally driven businesses at least as much as larger companies, and arguably more in order to stay competitive. The good news is that recent developments in the area of real time data integration have made it possible for SMEs to make that move successfully.
Why Real Time Integration Matters
Real time data integration means that different applications and databases are connected in such a way that if data in one system changes it is simultaneously updated in all others. There are both business and technical advantages real time integration provides:
- Better insight and visibility into your business – With real time dashboards that monitor key areas such as customer purchases, inventory levels, operations, the supply chain, et cetera management and staff are provided with a constant flow of insight to make better decisions with and improve performance.
- Superior Customer Service – Customer service can be taken to new levels with customer service representatives being able to provide real time information on available stock, a customer’s purchase history, account balances and loyalty rewards.
- Better Customer Engagement – For example, with systems integrated in real time an order management system can inform the CRM system that a purchase has been made triggering it to immediately send a thank you email to the customer.
- Efficient & Economical Transfer of Data – Real time integration works by moving an individual record between systems rather than a batch of records. As such it is more efficient which can turn into significant cost savings in cloud environments where software vendors typically increase charges when more data is pulled from their systems.
Not Just for the Big Guys Anymore
Large companies have benefited from real time integration across their systems and databases for a long time and have spent millions of dollars and enormous IT resources to achieve this capability in some form or another. Many SMEs have wanted some level of real time integration as well but have typically hit a wall when they discovered the IT and financial resource to do so.
Part of the reason is that the bar for successful data integration has continued to rise as company’s IT environments have become increasingly complex over the past five to seven years. Even modestly sized companies typically now operate multiple applications that run variously in the cloud, on-premise and often in different data centers or locations. If you then add in the security, networking, latency and performance considerations required to achieve real time into the equation it is easy to see this is a big nut to crack for a small IT team. In other words, how can an IT team of say 5-15 people, likely at their limits with their existing workload, find the time and gain the skills to develop real time integration capabilities on their own?
Having painted a somewhat depressing picture it is time to brighten it. First, many IT teams think about real time integration as an all or nothing proposition. They feel they must implement it across the board to be effective. However, in fact, it is very possible to get big gains by focusing on just one area in your business that may require integrating only a few applications together in real time. For example, arming your customer service reps with dashboards that pull data from a few key applications in real time can greatly enhance service levels when they engage with customers. Integrating data from certain key suppliers in real time can provide up to minute understanding on supplies and inventory to optimize levels and efficiencies. This re-think means moving to real time integration can initially be a smaller tactical decision for a company—one that can actually be achieved. When the company realizes the value it can then move (incrementally if necessary) to a more strategic, company wide capability in the future.
Secondly, and perhaps more important to enabling SMEs’ move to successful real time integration, is a new class of companies in the marketplace that are providing data integration as a cloud-based service. They provide connectors from each of a company’s various applications to their cloud-based integration software. When setup these services allow data to flow between applications and consumed by users as needed by a company. They are designed to handle all of the integration issues inherent in working with cloud and on-premise applications including real time. They also come with tooling that is easy to use and allow business users to handle many integration tasks.
There are a few vendors, including Accur8, that are specifically focused on the needs of SMEs (not that these technologies aren’t suitable for larger companies as well).
A key benefit to these SME focused companies is that they also often provide integration services as part of their total offering, providing initial setup and any required customization – by having the vendor handle this work it relieves the customer’s IT staff of the need to somehow make it all happen themselves. This is particularly helpful to smaller IT teams as they don’t need to devote the resources or take on the responsibility of the getting everything up and running. It also means pricing that fits the budget of SMEs even as they expand the number of applications they integrate in their organization.
To conclude, real time integration capabilities are an essential ingredient for companies moving to a digital first strategy. Instead of being left behind by their larger competitors in this area it is now possible for SMEs to reap the benefits of real time starting with small tactical implementations with a service model and price point they can afford. This is increasingly seen as more than a “nice to have”. Real time integration is really becoming a business necessity to effectively compete in any market.