When upgrading or implementing new software platforms, it’s easy to underestimate how essential integrations are to the success of the project. The focus tends to naturally fall on the setup, configuration, and customization of the software itself. However, virtually no cloud-based system stands alone today. Every application is a consumer of data, a transformer of data, and a transmitter of data with other applications. In general, the fundamental value of an application is amplified when interconnected seamlessly in an app ecosystem.
Unfortunately, we are not yet in a “plug and play” world with enterprise cloud applications. Most integration and workflow automation solutions require sophisticated process flows, advanced logic, and complex transformations to ensure data flows smoothly between applications. Data security is also a significant concern with integrations, as the data moving between applications is almost always high value and extremely sensitive.
That means that integrations often end up being much more significant components of software implementation projects than expected. If poorly managed, the integration component of projects can result in project delays, cost over-runs, poor solution quality and security concerns.
Challenges with Integration Projects
One challenge with integration projects is that integrations are not a primary focus or area of expertise of most software vendors. Software vendors know their own application, but not other systems that need to integrate with theirs. They also tend not to have integration best practices and patterns expertise. They don’t get involved in designing optimally for work automation that spans across applications. Thus, integrations tend to be outside of their scope.
Another challenge is that integrations and workflow automation solutions can impact how different teams in different groups do their jobs, so there may not be a single “decider” regarding how integrations should work. For example, integration between an Applicant Tracking System and HR system can impact recruiters, HR administrators, payroll administrators, hiring managers, and onboarding personnel – as well as the applicant.
Finally, keep in mind that an application change may result in many integrations to and from other applications and 3rd party services. Thus, there is often not a single integration project to manage, but instead multiple projects involving different stakeholders that must all go-live simultaneously.
The bottom line is that the importance of integrations should not be underestimated, as they often require significant work when the systems they connect change. Sophisticated integrations have multiple stakeholders and can quickly become complex. Proper planning is critical to ensure budgetary goals are adhered to, all stakeholder requirements are considered, and the ultimate solution meets business needs that span across departments and functions.
Advantages of Having a Project Manager
Integration projects are challenging to manage strictly at a Program level due to scope, the number of stakeholders that need to be involved, and unique design attributes that must be considered. Integration-focused Project Managers can be a Program Manager’s best friend because their view spans across the entire scope of the program, and they are able to raise issues with the Program Manager that might otherwise be overlooked.
Multiple Vendors means multiple cooks in the kitchen, and with this comes a high degree of risk. Part of the Project Manager’s responsibility at Dispatch is risk management. We leverage a project management philosophy called DIVE, which considers risk management and mitigation right from day one of a project. The first part of DIVE is Discovery, which includes a Risk Management Analysis within our team, that we share with the Program Manager and project managers that might be involved in other elements of the program.
The DIVE protocol is a hybrid between Agile and Waterfall project management approaches, which we find is the best way to manage integration projects. As such, a key deliverable for the project manager is the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), which is established in the Discovery Phase. This WBS is imperative to drive accurate estimations for overall project cost and can be altered on an agile basis if and when scope changes throughout the life of a project.
Once the WBS structure is established, Dispatch project managers pay close attention to project cadence/scheduling through adherence to Agile/Scrum practices.
Before go-live, the Project Manager’s focus shifts to coordinating test and validation efforts, delivering training with stakeholders, and ensuring risk is managed. This project phase can be challenging because applications may also be undergoing revision during this period, and each change can impact the function of the integration and cross-application workflows. Communication is essential, and the integration project manager needs to manage a significant number of moving pieces.
The Project Manager’s role does not end when a project goes “Live.” Project Managers can offer the first line of defence for an effective post-go-live “Hypercare” phase of each project. During post-go-live stabilization, if something goes wrong, it can be difficult to know whether the issue is due to something that happened in an upstream application, downstream application, with the integration itself, or data quality. The Project Manager ensures diagnosis and root-cause problem solving is well-coordinated between application teams, business teams, and the integration team.
Project management is a crucial discipline we rely on at Dispatch to ensure we can delight our clients with all the work they trust us to do. If you have a software implementation project coming up or are looking to automate workflows between applications, we’d love to hear from you.
Dispatch Integration is a software development and professional services firm that develops, delivers, and manages advanced data integration and workflow automation solutions. We exist to help organizations effectively deal with the complex and ever-changing need to integrate data and optimize end to end workflows between cloud-based, mission-critical applications.
Stephen Fontana is a seasoned Project Manager with experience in managing projects for international financial services institutions. He specializes in the software development life cycle and Scrum/Agile Methodology.