Breathing new life into your web presence and its capabilities with a new website, is an exciting experience. Seeing new designs for the site can be like opening cool new presents, but after it is all said and done, your site needs to be a lead generation website to pay for itself.
In many cases you need it to work with the software you already have in house. This interaction between these systems is called integration.
Without proper planning and preparation integration can become a beast that slows your efficiency and sucks all the fun out of your new site. Alternatively with the right planning, the site can increase your efficiency, sales, and web traffic.
In the next few articles I plan to address some of the basics of integration any company should consider before making decisions on how integration will serve their company. Hopefully enabling you to make informed decisions about how you will move forward with your new website.
This is a very rudimentary overview of integration, intended as a guide, to what could be one of the most important aspects of your website.
What Is Integration?
At its core, integration for your website is the glue that will hold your disparate computer systems together.
Integration can be as simple as importing an excel spreadsheet of products into your website or highly complex like custom ecommerce integration.
Below are four general forms of integration that most companies will employ.
1. Manual data transfer
Manual data transfer is one of the simplest forms of integration and requires human interaction. Manual transfer normally involves you exporting your data in one place and importing it somewhere else.
For example, a client may export all their orders from their website and then import their results into QuickBooks. In the long term manual data transfer can end up being labor intensive and prone to human error.
2. Server data transfer
Server transfer of files is similar to manual transfer, but it has a rudimentary level of automation. In most cases, System A will reach into System B’s file system and place a file on System B. Then system B that acts on that file, like importing into your order tracking database. This system tends to be inflexible but can be a quick solution for integration that will have rigid rules that are easy to adhere to.
In many cases, the workflow happens on a scheduled time and is the same every time with no variance, this can be an easy way to handle repetitive tasks automatically. For example, your website server may use FTP to transfer a daily list of all your orders to your product database server at 11:30 P.M. Then the product database server would import that list every night at 11:45.
3. Direct server access
Direct server access is where one system has access to another system’s resources.
For example, your website would log into your product database directly and get all the information as needed. Direct server access poses many security concerns for most IT departments and third party vendors, and few if any would allow it. That being said, if it can be executed safely and securely it can be utilized for very robust application development, but this writer does not recommend it.
4. Web Interfaces
Web interfaces are the modern way in which systems interact. Web interfaces act as a safe outward facing suite of tools. Instead of programming rigid structures that repeat, you can now interact in real time where your website can ask for custom information from another system as the user interacts with the site.
With web interfaces, systems don’t just trade information they are able to interact with each other. Unlike any of the other systems your web interface is also portable. A web interface not only provides a way for your website to interact with it, it also allows for anything connected to the web to interact with the interface.
Using standards is the best option when using an interface. When I talk about standards, I am talking about W3C standards. W3C is a widely accepted authority on web standards. By using a web interface that follows W3C standards you insure that all parties involved with your integration are speaking the same language. The only way to find out if your software vendor is offering W3C compliant systems is to ask.
Custom Interfaces can be problematic, but many times there are limiting factors that prevent the use of a standardized web interface. This could be hardware or software limitations, limits of programmer skills or time, or sometimes the web interface you have just doesn’t do everything you need. Custom integration needs to be done often and should not discourage you from pursuing a web interface level of integration.
As an example, you may be using a piece of software that provides a web interface but it is not utilizing recognized W3C standard. This usually forces your developers to write custom software to interact with that system. Many times this eliminates many of the tools at their disposal, lengthening development time, testing time and requiring more interaction between your software provider and web developer.
The first steps to determine how your site should be integrated is to determine your business process with the new system. Your choice in integration is really dependent on your business model. Having a completely automated system sounds great, but sometimes the cost of development and support is not worth the trouble. In the next article I will discuss business processes and how they pertain to your integration.