Putting it Together:
System Integration that Works
As operations look to optimize and automate their business and production processes as well as launch new marketing services, the topic of “integration” is something that is bound to come up. With so many different software tools, systems, repositories, and technologies that often exist within print businesses, defining what exactly integration entails can be challenging.
Integration requirements must be aligned with the goals of optimization and automation as well as the ability to offer new marketing services. The ultimate goal is to successfully create a logical, efficient flow of information. In approaching integration, businesses need to consider the scope and scale, the choice of internal versus external execution, and the associated technical issues that need to follow to ensure an effective end–result.
When is Integration Needed?
It’s a familiar story–over the past few decades, businesses have acquired various types of systems and technologies to accomplish different operational tasks ranging from web–to–print to cross–media to production management. We are now at a point where software systems are present at each step of business and production processes. Linkages must be made between order entry and production of static and personalized communications and mailing and fulfillment. Clients may be coming to you to create and develop solutions that are beyond the scope of your existing IT resources. While these solutions can represent a tremendous opportunity, you need to provide data and system integration services to ensure that information is being passed from one process to another in a quick, accurate, and automated manner. In fact, according to InfoTrends’ 2011 Production Software Investment Outlook, close to half of print businesses that place a high priority on workflow automation priorities consider system integration to be an initiative for increasing efficiency.
The term “integration” is often used quite liberally, regardless of the industry. It should be clarified that what is typically being talked about in the context of automation and optimization is system integration. System integration encompasses connecting disparate systems together to work in concert with each other, ensuring continuity between systems and business or production processes across the entire organization. This includes integration of your production processes and integration with your customer’s infrastructure.
The Right Resources
Performing a system integration or cross–media marketing services project with an internal team versus using some type of external provider is a choice that many companies have to make. Making that determination often depends on the scope and scale of the project, internal IT capabilities, and subsequent costs. Software vendors themselves typically have a team of technical consultants that can perform fee–based system integration or provide programming services for of their products. There are system integrators that specialize in integrating specific types of systems or particular products; common ones include integrating print e–commerce with digital asset management or building out cross–media solutions to drive multi–channel communications.
Among printers who own graphic communications software tools, the top purchasing criteria is ease of integration. Printers want systems that will easily integrate with other systems and are easy to use when up and running. Pre–packaged software doesn’t always get the job done. It is a challenge to find an off–the–shelf product that fits your unique requirements while also integrating with legacy systems. That’s when it’s time to either build the right IT staff or find the right business partner to make systems work together effectively.
Figure 1: What are your top criteria for purchasing print production workflow management solutions?