Should Your Software Applications Talk to One Another?

Do you know everything you need to know about what’s going on in your manufacturing company? Do you have all of the data you need?
If you do, is it a quick and efficient process for you and your staff to get the reports to you? Or does it take your staff a lot of time to manually assemble reports from various software systems which you use, such as your ERP, CRM, CMMS, and/or MES systems?
If the answers are No, there might be a solution for you. That solution is called a “systems integration”. Systems integration is a setup of custom software tools or off-the-shelf tools that allow various software systems to to share data with one another. They can very often have a major, positive impact on the company.
To integrate multiple systems at a manufacturing plant or other company one must determine whether the integration can be done or not. This can be determined by answering a number of questions such as:
  • Do the systems in question have APIs or other interfaces which allow software developers to securely reach in and push or pull data? Or are the databases open for read-only access, at a minimum? Feel free to be creative, but also be careful.
  • How many systems contain data that is needed elsewhere? Keep it simple, maybe only select two systems to start with a smaller integration.
  • How much data needs to move from one system to another? Be realistic with your expectations and need.
  • What will you do with the data? Simply analyze and report? Or push the data into another application to track various products or processes? Best to keep it simple to start.
  • Are any of the systems behind a firewall of some type, such as a firewall to protect your Industrial Control Systems (ICS) on the plant floor? This can get dicey. You definitely need to talk with real professions to work through this.
Your IT department and/or software developers should be able to answer those questions after they do a bit of digging.
Throughout the sample questions above you saw some comments to keep in mind. I’ll summarize those comments again because they’re important for a systems integration to be successful:
  • Know what you need.
  • Know what you have.
  • Keep it simple for what you need.
  • Start with a small integration project, get it working, get it to add a lot of value, then do more.
  • Only do this work with real, proven professionals.
I can’t stress the last point enough…be sure to work with real, proven professionals, whether it’s your IT department, senior software developers, or product specialists. We have seen more failed projects by others than we care to remember which were caused by inexperienced and/or cheap staff or consultants trying to tackle important, business critical, complex projects.