Integrate All the Things

Submitted by graham on Fri, 10/02/2020 - 14:11
Integrate all the things

Integrating systems across an organisation is an increasingly common practice for companies that are looking to increase efficiency, leverage data and improve customer experiences. The obvious integration targets tend to be:

  • Ecommerce
  • CRM (Customer relationship management)
  • ERP (Enterprise resource planning)
  • WHM (Warehouse management system)

However, this is really the tip of the integration iceberg. Efficiencies and opportunities can be found in multiple domains all across the company.

HR

Larger employers will have many staff already employed plus a steady stream of joiners and leavers. What happens when somebody joins the team?

  1. Onboarding - there is probably an HR system that manages the onboarding process and the ongoing employment.
  2. Payroll - you're not getting paid if you're not in the payroll system!
  3. Learning - some companies will use a learning management system (LMS) to manage the delivery of training materials to bring new recruits up to speed as well as to keep long term team members up to date
  4. System access - if team members need to use computer systems they will need a user account with login credentials
  5. External logins - if other tools must be used that have their own authentication mechanisms then team members need to be set up here as well.
  6. Expense tracking - any claimable expenses are likely to be managed in a dedicated system, which will need records for the employees claiming expenses.

Automating this process can save time, but more importantly it can also save errors. No employee wants to find they don't receive their first pay cheque because their data didn't quite make it into the payroll system on time and accurately. When system access is not activated in a timely fashion the likely result is that a ticket is submitted to the IT support team and then time is burnt dealing with a request that takes a colleague out of their flow of work.

Of course, these issues are inconvenient, but what about leavers, especially disgruntled leavers? Let's say your offboarding process is pretty manual involving spreadsheets and emails. How much harm could a disgruntled leaver inflict by continuing to access key systems while the spreadsheet of leavers sits waiting in an inbox to be actioned. It is much safer to have a simple, automated and instant offboarding process.

Security

With more and more business processes being digitalised the number of cyber security attack vectors is always increasing. Employees can receive phishing emails every day with some of the more sophisticated attacks proving difficult to detect, these days even being sent as replies to legitimate emails, making them look highly plausible.

Any publicly facing infrastructure is likely to be under constant scrutiny from bots looking for vulnerabilities such as unpatched security holes and misconfigurations.

The applications deployed on your infrastructure will similarly be exposed to constant probing, looking for ways to manipulate the database or execute code that is not intended to be executed.

With the headless approach to web applications gathering pace, large volumes of data are now available via APIs and these too will be probed to see whether they can be made to leak data inadvertently.

There is an increasing trend of more and more people working from home and other remote locations. Each of those laptops connecting to potentially insecure networks provides another opportunity for hackers to compromise your assets and your network.

There are very many security tools available to tackle these problems. However, the more sophisticated attacks could very well target combinations of these attack vectors, using one approach to penetrate your first layer of security to access credentials that can get them through the next layer of security, and so on. They are also likely to look for vulnerabilities across your entire estate.

Therefore you can achieve a greater degree of protection by integrating security systems such that malicious activity detected anywhere can automatically be used to block subsequent accesses anywhere across the estate, even if those subsequent accesses in isolation would not look suspicious.

Marketing

Marketing automation tools are well established, allowing you to target specific customers/potential customers with tailored communications, whether that is via scheduled email campaigns or personalised display ads.

But what if it were possible to control your Google Ad Words bids in response to real time data such as your stock position on certain items. Or even better, what if you could adjust your bids in response to yours and your competitors' stock positions? Or the weather. Or the result of a football match. Or currency exchange rates. Or temporary discounts being offered by your competitors. The list can go on and on.

DevOps

Adopting devops practices is a great way to increase productivity and innovation, but integration allows us to maximise these advantages. For example, what are the possibilities if we integrate these systems:

  • Git repository
  • Google search console
  • Jira

We could detect whether a particular code change coincided with a significant drop in our search positions and then automatically open up a ticket in Jira prompting the team to investigate whether this is part of a wider algorithmic search engine update or whether our recent change violated SEO practices.

We might also integrate our infrastructure monitoring tools, allowing us to see whether a recent update has resulted in CPU/Memory usage spiking allowing us to take prompt action before any real damage is caused.

Conclusion

For any organisation using multiple systems to create value, the opportunity exists to create even more value by integrating those systems to create richer data sets and experiences.