Constant change in the business landscape dictates a need to merge disparate business networks into a single functioning computerized system. Cost and personal preferences aside, there’s a methodology that can be used to more efficiently combine separate computer networks.
Think of system integration as the process of combining different systems, and sub-systems, into a single functioning system. Ideally, the resulting network will now take advantage of upgraded computer hardware and software that delivers a state-of-the-art working environment for your business or association knowledge workers.
To accomplish this, consider these methods for integration:
- Vertical Integration: Cheap, quick, and easily accomplished, this integration method involves only reusing the necessary system components needed to facilitate business continuity. Since each part of the network is siloed, opportunities for system scalability are severely limited.
- Star Integration (aka Spaghetti Integration): Somewhat more complex, this integration method attempts to create an interface between each legacy network component. While on paper these interconnections look somewhat star-like, the resulting diagram looks like spaghetti, hence the terminology. Since each system component is interconnected, this provides some flexibility when reusing network system components, especially when faced with proprietary software.
- Horizontal Integration: Sometimes referred to as an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), this integration method uses a single system component as an inter-communication device to interface with the rest of the components on the system network. Since the ESB provides a single point-of-contact for each legacy network component, the resulting configuration can be far less complex and allows for independently swapping out network components in favor of newer technology. However, time and setup cost to implement the ESB is a major consideration.
Besides the physical network and the software that runs on it, other considerations to keep in mind when combining a business network are:
- Combining separate financial systems that rely on internal consistencies to maintain accounting best practices. Preparing an internal audit may help resolve any discrepancies.
- Merging association, nonprofit, or corporate ‘culture,’ such as preferences for email clients and base operating systems. Remember, your knowledge workers must be able to use the system.
- Upgrading to state-of-the-art network components that support newer technology such as mobile apps and cloud computing. Just as the business landscape changes due to mergers and acquisitions, so does the technological landscape change with continually evolving hardware and software.
- Supporting international language and currency differences. If your association or nonprofit is, or has recently become, an international entity, consider the ramifications this may have on your existing network components.
- Maintaining a safe and secure computing environment. Ensure that once the newly combined network is completed that whatever separate firewalls or virus technology previously used is also combined and in place to protect your business information.
Deciding what is the best method to use when your association, nonprofit, or business faces the need to integrate separate computer networks may be driven by cost, expediency, or technology. Or the final decision may be a compromise that combines those three concerns, plus a mix of other factors such as financial systems used, workers’ software preferences, and keeping current with the latest available technological solutions.