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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

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Seamless Systems Integration Creates Efficiencies & Insights


Systems integration has become more critical than ever as organizations shift to a hybrid blend of on-premises and cloud-based applications. By enabling their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and other key applications to “talk” to each other via integration, finance leaders can streamline business processes and gain valuable analytical insights.

These insights can help the finance department take on a more strategic role. “Integration will enable finance leaders and their teams to have the real-time information to get out of the business of just pushing paper around and doing manual accounting reconciliation work, and bring them up as real business leaders in their organization,” said Lindy Antonelli, a partner in Armanino’s  Cloud Solutions practice, speaking at the recent Armanino EVOLUTION Client Conference.

Finance leaders can take charge of the integration process, instead of having to rely on their busy IT departments, because the open architecture of cloud applications means they don’t require heavy IT involvement.  “It’s a very simple process to find integrations that meet the checkboxes of your IT team without requiring the IT department to vet out every detail, ” said speaker Sartaj Kaur, a senior consultant in Armanino’s Cloud Solutions practice. 

IT may be involved from a security point of view, but otherwise, “business leaders are becoming the owners of managing these integrations,” Kaur said.  Owning the process allows finance chiefs to dictate the specific functionality they need from their integrated systems.  

Fewer spreadsheets, more analysis
When applications can’t share information, the finance staff must spend hours each month re-entering data or managing big Excel spreadsheets—a time-consuming and error-prone process. By integrating their ERP system with procurement, customer relationship management (CRM), budgeting, fundraising and other solutions, organizations can increase their productivity without adding head count, have fewer users per system, create “one version of the truth” and get meaningful insights from their data.

For example, marketing automation firm Marketo integrated its Intacct ERP system with a Coupa procurement tool, enabling it to migrate users, accounts, vendors and invoices between both systems. The integration gives the firm greater analytical insight into vendor behavior, so it is able to identify top performers. Visibility into procurement processes helps the firm track purchasing trends and streamline its spending.   

Data management software company kCura integrated Intacct and the Adaptive Insights budgeting tool, enabling the finance team to bring data on actual transactions and deferred revenue into Adaptive Insights and then back to Intacct. This saves kCura hours at the end of each month, because instead of requiring manual import worksheets, the automated process takes only 10 or 15 minutes. The integration also allows the team to re-upload data in Adaptive Insights before month-end, instead of having to wait for one big manual push, so they can see where things stand on an ongoing basis.

Integrating mission-critical applications translates into quantifiable results. On average, companies that integrate best-in-class solutions achieve a 200+% annual return on investment (ROI) and an ROI payback in less than six months from the project go-live date, according to the Cloud Accounting Institute.  

Integration also enables organizations to become more competitive by fully utilizing their applications. Until recently, according to Antonelli, most firms were satisfied with solutions that met the majority of their business requirements, and would only realize a fraction of the software’s value.  She said that in today’s market, however, companies need “to realize 100% of the applications’ value in order to be successful and grow.”

What to look for
When choosing an integration, business leaders need to make sure it provides the specific functionality and security they need. If the provider is using a platform for the integration, for example, it’s important to ask them about the uptime and about how secure the platform is.  The integration should also have the same business logic that the organization is using internally, so they don’t have to create workarounds. 

Firms also have to decide whether to go with a pre-built solution or have the integration built from scratch.  The benefits of a pre-built solution include its plug-and-play functionality and the fact that typically, it has already been vetted by numerous other users. If a provider is building a solution from scratch, find out whether they’ve done the same type of integration before, and how long it will take.

Having the support to ensure that the integration doesn’t break during new software releases or upgrades is also critical. “The last thing you want…is to have your integration break, then you have a consultant working a week to get you back up when you need to close the books,” said Kaur.  “Make sure the integrations are supported throughout new upgrades [and] new API releases, as well as having ongoing support.”

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