Lessons from B2B on How to Win at Integration, Part II

Loraine Lawson

Today, I’m continuing a discussion on the key factors for integration success, as identified by the Freeform Dynamics, a research firm that recently studied what differentiates successful B2B integration environments from underperforming B2B organizations.

As I shared on Friday, even though the factors were identified during a survey of B2B companies, the six success factors struck me as relevant to other integration scenarios — like, for instance, in situations where you’re integrating data or systems internally.

Since I discussed the first two factors — Clarity on business value and appropriate funding and commitment — in my previous post, let’s continue with a look at Freeform Dynamic’s final four factors for B2B integration success, with my takeaway lesson for other integration projects.

An inclusive strategy and mindset. For B2B, this means taking the broadest possible view of integration by making it a goal to integrate as many B2B partners as possible. Now, you can do this through mandates, or you can do this through smaller, and more “empathetic and motivational” approaches, the report notes.

Guess which approach the more mature organizations use? If you guessed they used a carrot rather than a stick, you’re correct.

The takeaway here: When you’re dealing with an integration project, think as broadly as possible — preferably, across the enterprise — but focus on small steps that win support, rather than broad mandates that alienate stake-holders.

Adequate internal foundations. In a B2B context, this is about ensuring you’re internal systems aren’t a bottleneck to automating your partners. Obviously, if you want integration with suppliers, you need to make sure your systems can handle the challenge.

But this is true for internal projects as well: If you’re going to focus on enterprise-wide integration, it’s good to get your internal IT policies and systems up to date. For instance, have you standardized on one integration platform? Do you have best practices you can share and use in other integration projects?

An Integration Competency Center is one step you can take to ensure you have adequate internal foundations for any integration project.

A platform approach to integration. Point-to-point integration is one way to handle B2B, but just as with internal systems, it can become cumbersome if you need to integrate lots of points — and, just as with internal silos, that’s usually what happens in a B2B supply chain. So it’s not surprising that top-tier B2B performers tend toward B2B integration platforms, rather than custom solutions.

The same holds true for internal integration: While you can hand-code connections, this tends to create more problems than it solves long term, particularly as your integration needs grow. That’s why smart companies have been shifting away from hand-coding toward data integration solutions in recent years. It’s good advice for B2B, and it’s good advice for internal integration projects.

The right solution partners. To be honest, this is the one area that strikes me as speaking directly to the report’s sponsor, Liaison Technologies. That’s not necessarily something you’d do for an internal project — but you might. What the report found here is that more companies reported generally positive results with tools and middleware, smaller specialist suppliers, and project services from big consulting and SI firms than with managed services.

The main complaints with using third parties for integration were about cost, complexity and too much requirement for specialist skills. And, sure enough, complexity is often a major issue for development teams that switch from hand-coding to a platform solution.

So the takeaway for all integration projects is to do your due diligence and ask about all these issues, especially complexity and cost, before committing to any integration platform or service provider.

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