Today I am in England, and the two big milestones of the week are Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday, as well as the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. Last night on BBC2 there was quite a bit of chit-chat about how applicable Shakespeare’s work still is to every day modern life, and I recalled a modernized version I saw of The Merchant of Venice in London many years ago that featured fax machines and Palm Pilots.

And so today, with apologies to the Bard, I share one of my own adaptations:

To integrate, or not to integrate?

That is the question

Whether ’tis nobler in the enterprise to define

The slings and arrows of outrageous systems diagrams

And by stipulating, grasp them

We’ve all been there: someone plugs their laptop into the projector, and on the screen appears the enterprise integration “vision”. There’s a stack of boxes filled with acronyms: CRM, ERP, CMS, CMP, DAM, PIM, MDM, BI…..with seemingly countless arrows from one to the other, sometimes directed one-to-one, often one-to-many, some one-directional, others bi-directional. Dotted lines put some systems in a group, and lost in the dots it says “API”. People nod, affirm, and say “YES! This is how we must integrate!”

But as Hamlet said, this must give us pause.

Such diagrams are frequently the multi-thousand-dollar deliverables of big-shot consulting firms or the oft-misunderstood emerged-from-the-basement enterprise architect, but let’s be honest: they are often amorphous, ill-defined, and say nothing about how such integrations will actually happen.

Know Your Slings and Arrows

If you’re a digital marketer or a digital workplace business owner, your role in defining exactly what those arrows do, and precisely how the slings will catapult data from one system to another, is far more vital than you may think.

You need to ask yourself:

  1. Where is the single source of the truth for my content or assets?
  2. Which systems will “own” the content (and where & how can I modify it, in what interface), vs. where can I use that content or metadata in another system, to search, target, or re-use that content appropriately?
  3. How often and how will the destination systems “listen to” or check for updated content or assets in the source system?
  4. Will the destination system ever have to write back to the source system, and if so, what data, and how?
  5. How will you handle content dependency (i.e., “where-used”) analysis and reports?

Example: PIM plus DAM

Let’s take a practical but simple example. A typical product company has a PIM (Product Information Management) system as well as a DAM (Digital Asset Management) system. PIMs manage granular product data such as ingredients, regulatory information, colors, sizes, etc. Often in a DAM, marketers want to be able to search for assets based on product characteristics that originate in the PIM. And so we ask ourselves:

  1. Will the PIM send the product data to the DAM, or will the DAM look up the product data in the PIM? Or both? What are the capabilities of the existing APIs to do either?
  2. How will the PIM record map to the appropriate DAM record? What data will it push/pull precisely?
  3. Will the data model match exactly? If not, how will it map?
  4. What fields will be indexed in the DAM search?
  5. If someone using the DAM notes some aspect of product information that is incorrect or needs to change, what is the process to get it updated, if that data isn’t writable in the DAM?
  6. If I change an asset in the DAM, what product records in the PIM will get impacted?

These are the questions I am often asking my clients, and working through the answers is not an easy task.

Integration: How Over What

Oftentimes what becomes clear is that what’s holding organizations back from better re-use, findability, usability and workflow is ill-defined integrations, that were set up without proper consideration of the how rather than just the what.

To integrate, yes — but to define, perchance: make it more than a dream. If you’re grappling with defining your slings and arrows, contact me, I’ll be happy to help.