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Software Integration: An introduction
These days, there’s a software solution for virtually every business problem. Organizations looking to streamline processes or harness data for better decision-making have a number of solutions to choose from.
Alone, these software solutions are great at what they do. When organizations connect software systems, however, they can achieve amazing things. Integrations allow organizations to collaborate across departments, find patterns in data collected from multiple software solutions, and find efficiencies that simply aren’t possible without integrating software. With Fiix’s open application programming interface (API), customers can connect their computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to a number of other systems. The three most common software integrations our customers pursue are with the following solutions:
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems
- Condition monitoring tools
- Collaboration and business process management software
In the past, integrating software was a complicated and time-consuming process that often required a dedicated team of IT experts to install, configure, secure, and upgrade. Luckily, modern maintenance software and the standardization of data protocols have made integrations much more accessible to organizations in recent years.
The benefits of software integration
Whether you’re connecting your CMMS to an ERP system, a business process management tool, a machine sensor, or all three, integrating has a number of benefits.
1. Create one “source of truth”
Integration between two systems eliminates the redundancy of managing both separately. Data in one system is automatically synced and updated in the second system. That means nothing needs to be added twice, and what you see in one system always reflects the truth.
2. Improve decision-making
Integrating information between systems makes it much easier to make informed decisions. For example, integrating your CMMS with an ERP allows procurement teams to make purchasing decisions based on actual parts and supplies consumption. Similarly, connecting your CMMS to machine sensors allows real-time, condition-based monitoring to occur, which leads to an optimized maintenance strategy.
3. Bridge the gap between teams
When you connect maintenance software to solutions used by other teams, you enable those teams to work better together. For example, connecting your CMMS to a business process management tool, like a manufacturing execution system (MES), allows operators to submit work requests via email or other communication tools, like Slack. In this scenario, each team is collaborating seamlessly with the software they need for their day-to-day work, without having to be trained on a new system.
4. Increase productivity
When all systems are connected to a CMMS that technicians are properly trained on, it eliminates the need for cross-training, and ensures that the work they’re doing is informed by accurate and up-to-date information. Also, because integration eliminates the time lag of data appearing in different systems, it improves overall timeliness, which results in faster decision-making.
5. Eliminate human error
Without integration, something as simple as a typo could mean ordering the wrong part through the ERP, leading to extended equipment downtime, missed orders, and soured business relationships. With integration, you’re letting your systems talk directly to each other, which seriously decreases the chance of errors.
6. Cut costs
When you can make smarter maintenance decisions based on data from other areas of the organization, it allows for cost savings due to better planning. Integrating with an ERP reduces costs from unnecessary inventory. Using condition monitoring to plan maintenance helps the maintenance team be more efficient, and use fewer costly resources. Finally, connecting to business process management tools allows you to streamline activities across teams, which increases collaboration and knowledge-sharing, and leads to cost reduction.
7. Streamline processes
When systems are integrated, it allows for invoicing, reporting, and data to be accessible from one place. This makes it a lot easier to simplify processes that would normally have to be reconciled from two or more separate systems.
What to consider when you’re integrating software
There are obviously many benefits to integrating your CMMS with other systems in your organization, but there are also a number of things you should consider beforehand.
1. Get clarity on what your desired endpoints are
It may go without saying, but it’s important to identify why you want to integrate software and make a business case for it. This should include defining your goals in terms of cost savings, efficiency gains, and return on investment. If integration isn’t actually needed, you won’t be adding any value by connecting systems. Once you have a solid business case, make sure you understand what information will need to be pushed and pulled from your CMMS. This will make it easier to see how integration will impact the organization.
2. Create a project plan and stick to it
Establish the project framework early on by assigning a project manager, defining the scope of work, and setting a timetable for completion with milestones and deliverables. This includes clearly mapping out which departments will need visibility into which pieces of information at all stages of the integration, from setup to execution, and beyond. Having timelines, checkpoints, and responsibilities outlined ahead of time will help keep each stakeholder accountable.
3. Get buy-in from key stakeholders right from the start
It’s important that everyone understands that integration is a positive change for the organization. Your IT team should be informed and involved from the beginning, as they will be the ones identifying whether the integration can be executed in-house or by a third party. All other stakeholders should be included when identifying the business benefits and impacts, as they can help identify any issues that could crop up ahead of time. Keeping everyone informed early will allow them to plan ahead and ensure there are no surprises.
4. Evaluate the ongoing total cost of ownership
The total cost of ownership includes the initial purchase price of the application, integration, and operating costs from purchase to disposal. Cloud software has a major advantage here, since hosting, security, upgrades, support, licensing, backups, virus software, and the integration adapter are bundled up into one, simple, monthly subscription. Additionally, the vendor manages the complex IT hardware, servers, network configuration, upgrades, patches, security, and daily backups so you don’t have to.
5. Clearly define your processes, data mapping, and reporting requirements ahead of time
Decide whether your organization wants to do a full or partial integration by determining what data needs to be shared between the two applications. A simple integration could include assets, inventory levels, parts costs, suppliers and vendors, purchase orders, etc. Identify what data needs to be shared to deliver the expected efficiencies. There’s no point sending data back and forth if it’s not needed.
6. Make sure integration is actually possible between your two applications
Both systems must have an API so they can exchange data with another system. A number of other technical details such as network architecture, IT limitations, corporate firewalls, and database mapping must also align before integration can proceed. If you don’t have the in-house expertise to manage a complex integration, the best low-risk solution is to go with two systems that already integrate.
7. Make sure you get an intuitive and easy-to-use system
In addition to ensuring both systems can be integrated, you should also make sure that both systems are easy to use. Usability can have a huge influence on how much your team actually uses the system and ultimately what you get out of it. What’s more, make sure the systems are being used properly before integration. Conduct regular audits of each system to correct anything that needs to be addressed beforehand.
The bottom line: Software integrations unlock unlimited potential
Connecting your CMMS to other software allows for true collaboration and connection within an organization. Integrations make it possible for teams to be successful with the tools that were designed for them, and eliminate the need for employees to be trained on additional tools that will slow them down.
It’s important to understand why you want to integrate and what is required in order to make it successful. When integrations are done right, organizations can be more productive, efficient, and analytical.