As the world becomes more digital, the conversation around integration becomes more interesting.  Organizations have a growing need to better access the vast amounts of data they are gathering to make better, faster decisions.  For years the pendulum has swung back and forth between centralizing data and integrating different repositories of data. 

Integration – The Early Years

Before the existence of the current monolithic business systems, when there was MRP rather than ERP, companies bought specialized systems to solve specific business needs.  As different parts of an organization each developed or implemented their own systems, the demand to share this data grew and integration became popular. 

As with most things, the need outpaced the technology.  Storage systems could not support ballooning data requirements, networks were not reliable or fast enough for synchronous interaction across distances, transmission speeds were not high enough to sustain concurrency, development tools were not robust enough to maintain integrations in a cost-effective manner over time.  As a result, integration earned a reputation for being both troublesome and expensive.

Single Source of Truth?

Software vendors responded by building ENTERPRISE business systems in an effort to be the single source of information and claiming to be THE single source of truth.  Organizations then spent millions, 10s of millions or even 100s of millions of dollars reorganizing their businesses and processes to deploy these monolithic systemsDigital Transformation - Integration only to find out that their information and processes were still siloed.  Companies discovered they now had 2, 3, 4, or more SINGLE sources of truth many of which required some similar information and a lot of unique information needs.

For the last 10-20 years, we have seen these large Enterprise systems try to convince us that the part of the business they manage is more important than the other parts of our organizations and how it is simple to just add a little extra functionality to do everything those other business systems do. 

The truth is there is a need for all these systems (ERP, PLM, CRM, MRO, MES, IoT, BI, etc) and one system cannot do it all

  • Some systems are transactional while others are informational
  • Their information and processes have different time horizons
  • Their audiences are different
  • The sophistication of the users is often different
  • Security and access needs are different
  • Some require real-time data while others are less time-sensitive

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is unrealistic to expect one system to cover all the needs of an organization.  However, it is increasingly important to have access to data across systems as we are expected to make quicker business decisions, respond to customer feedback more quickly, bring products to market faster, reduce cost, develop agile distributed supply chains, provide predictive and corrective action and improve customer responsiveness.

To thrive over the next 20 years, organizations will need to have or develop an integration strategy.  Technology has come a long way in helping us be successful with integration; It is no longer something to be afraid of.  Integration no longer needs to be expensive and difficult to build, maintain, and operate.  

As we successfully deploy new integration strategies, we will continue to expand our goals and expectations until our vision again exceeds the capabilities of our mainstream technologies.  Our understanding of our needs will change, and as we become smarter, we will identify new problems to overcome.  In the meantime, our organizations will have benefited enormously just as in past cycles.