In this article I will present 10 easy points to keep in mind to ensure that your integration project is a success. There is no research, statistics or other metrics behind this list. Just my personal experience after 15+ years of integration work with Infor M3 and MEC (M3 Enterprise Collaborator). The list is in no particular order.
Please feel free to leave a comment if you think I have missed something.
Let’s get started.
1. Write a detailed project specification
This may seem like common sense, but often as an integration consultant you are left with very little information to start with and you are expected to fill in the blanks. However, the fact is that as an integration consultant you work with all the different processes in the ERP system and it is impossible to be an expert in everything. Besides, every company have different process flows and configurations, making this task even harder. The integration will get done…eventually, after a lot of questions and requests for clarifications, which could have been avoided if the information in the initial specification had been more detailed.
2. Define the roles and responsibilities of the people in the integration project
Usually there is a person in every company that is responsible for the EDI and integration maintenace and might have been so for many, many years. This person may even have developed some of the interfaces way back.
Naturally this person will feel threatened by an external consultant coming along and proposing changes to his or her domain. He or she may even in extreme cases act as a gatekeeper to critical information, thus working against the success of the integration project.
It is important that the roles and expectations of the different people in the project are well-defined by the project leader or the project sponsor.
Everyone needs to pull in the same direction and in most cases all it takes is re-assurance that no ones job is on the line and that the change is ultimately for the better.
3. Provide support to the project from the top level management
Sometimes there is a lack of support by the business and the top level management. Although the integrations may have significant impact on how the business is run, it has quite low priority from management and may even be pushed aside or postponed due to the need to put out fires or to attend to tasks that are quite insignificant.
4. Prepare your IT infrastructure before the project
This is something that should really not be a problem, but sometimes it still is. Some common interuptions to an integration project is integration software which has not been properly installed. Consultant user profiles without the required permissions, unplanned restoring of test systems, wiping all the integration configurations or VPN services that are not working properly.
Individually these may not have a big impact on the project time frame, but many small streams make great rivers (swedish proverb).
5. Try to limit changes during the course of the project
Sometimes you realize things during the project you were not aware of when starting out, therefore it may have been impossible to plan for it. However, these changes can have significant impact on the time frame of the project. As an integration consultant, when reviewing a project specification, you have a general idea of how long time things will take. Especially if you have been doing
it for a while. You know what API’s are available and where you may need to create a web service or make a database call.
However, if these conditions change it is like trying to hit a moving target, and your initial estimate may need to be complete thrown out the window.
6. Clean up your data prior to the project
It is important to understand that garbage in, garbage out also applies in a B2B integration. There is no magical AI (not yet!) that will automatically clean and make sense of the data if it was entered inconsistently or incorrect. A common example are addresses, which can be entered in many different ways, but may have to be in specific defined fields in your B2B transaction. Often causing the transaction to fail at the other end and initially the interface is blamed for not “working” as it is supposed to. Other examples are when reserved fields in the ERP are used for something else than their intended purpose, and suddenly all sorts of strange information is sent in the interface.
7. Prepare for business process change
Often a B2B integration will have significant impact on the business process it supports and sometimes there has not been enough planning ahead for these changes. When it is close to go-live the roles within the process flow and who is responsible for what is still not clear. Even in a fully automated process, there is still potential for errors and exceptions, and it is important that someone is monitoring and taking care of these from day one. This person may not be the one taking action, but is responsible that action is being taken.
8. Provide resources and relevant test data for testing
This is quite common and is always time consuming. You may have finished the integration coding in a day or two, but there is no one available to help with the testing and no relevant data. Often a specific business process flow that needs to be followed (and as mentioned in the first point, every business is different), no one has the time to assist, because they are to busy with their day-to-day tasks. This is where you need the support of the top level management to free up the relevant process owners who understands the business process 100%, knows what to test, how to test it and what results to expect. These people will also play a crucial part in defining the test cases in the test specification and ensure that as many issues as possible are captured before going live.
9. Ask your business partners to respond in a timely manner
This is probably the most common cause of delayed integration projects, which is frustrating, because it is also the point which is the hardest to do something about. You are dealing with people outside the company you are working for, and although the business top-level management may still be able to put some pressure on their B2B partner (depending who the partner is of course) it is still very much out of your hands.
Sometimes it could take days or in extreme cases even weeks before you get a response from a business partner after submitting test data. This can have significant impact on the project time line and also means that everyone involved is getting increasingly disconnected with the project, making it even harder to pick it up again where it was left off.
10. Keep it simple!
I’ve seen many examples when far too much business logic has been implemented in interfaces. Especially when the functionality is missing in the ERP and it is faster and cheaper to develop it as part of the interface. This is dangerous and after a while the integration becomes a black box and no one really knows what it does. So my advice is to keep it simple and it’s also good practice to insist on keeping up-to-date documentation on your integrations, so you know down the track what they do, without having to call in external consultants everytime to find out.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and please feel free to share it if you like it.
If you would like more information or want to discuss an upcoming Infor M3 EDI or integration project, please contact us at Integration Wizards or get in touch with me directly on Mathias Wallgren.
We can assist you at any stage of your integration project, from planning and execution to training and documentation.