Mark Denchy, director of product management at data integration company EXTOL International, wrote a quirky piece for DM Review this month. It's called, "Five Questions Your Integration Salesman Doesn't Want You to Ask."
As it turns out, one reason salesmen don't want you to ask these questions is because the answer is almost always some version of, "It depends." So, while the questions are entertaining, I'm not sure asking them would actually help you that much.
But what will help you are the recommendations hidden in the answers to those five questions. In exploring his own questions, Denchy ends up giving a lot of great advice about how to save money on integration projects.
Here are the money-saving recommendations Denchy makes in the article: Make sure the person in charge of the integration project understands your business processes and is familiar with data formats, mapping and data conversion before you bring in vendors or consultants. This will help you shave time and money off the project. Denchy says the quickest integration projects usually are staffed by the IT team -- not the business analyst or "everyone else." He writes:
"Understanding one's business goes a long way toward developing integration. Besides understanding the company's own business processes, it also helps to have an understanding of the data formats. Be aware of all facets general to specific."
Start with a short pilot project and use that project as a mentoring opportunity for your staff. This will ensure your staff is trained to do future projects and, you hope, reduce the time you're paying a consultant. Notes Denchy:
"The concept has been proven, and the results are immediate. Because of the capabilities of contemporary integration tools, these pilot projects only last a few weeks. They can be an effective way to measure the rate of knowledge transfer and end up with a usable result."
Don't buy more than you need. While you should always keep the big "enterprise picture" in mind, that doesn't mean you have to buy an enterprise solution if all you need is a quick fix for an immediate problem, Denchy says.
"Being able to buy a slice of a full integration solution is a valuable way to meet immediate needs and hopefully introduce the technology at a lower price point."
He does warn that you can incur more hidden costs, such as having to pay for more training by piecemeal implementations.
I also liked his accompanying graph, "Why Integration Matters." There's a list of questions on the graph, and if a business is going to answer them, it's going to require integration. The IT department, however, could consider this list of questions a choose-your-own business justification for integration projects.
Next time you need to justify the cost of an integration project, just figure out which of the following questions that project will help you answer:
- Are orders being held up?
- When will my order be shipped?
- What demand can we expect from our product?
- Are there any unusual spikes or dips in sales volume?
- Where is my order?
- When will more product be available?
- What's going on (financially)?