Seamless business software integration mostly a myth

Lorge Press Office
[Johannesburg, 30 July 2003] So-called “seamless integration” of a new software system with a legacy system is by and large a myth and is not always as easy or cost-effective a solution as product vendors may promise, according to Neels du Plooy, business manager at Acctivity, a division of Softline Lorge that produces specialist enterprise software and integrated solutions for ACCPAC accounting software.

Du Plooy says there are three options when integrating: using a generic or custom-built data import facility, using a direct database connection, or using a software development kit (SDK).

“Generic solutions are very basic and, on average, will only import data files and perform basic data manipulation, which is useful when changing a system or updating static information.

“Legacy system integration is always more complex and will require development action from either or both the customer and product supplier development teams.”

A second option is to make use of direct database connection. The fundamental problems with accessing the data directly are data integrity, data security and bypassing or redevelopment of business rules. Thereafter there is a major risk if the product supplier decides to change the data structure, technology or business rules when upgrading or improving the software system.

“There is no obligation on the supplier to inform or consult with the end-user regarding such changes. If they are made the end-user might have to bear the cost of total redevelopment of his integrated software system or he could be forced to stay with the version of the application on which the integration exercise was conducted. Staying with that version could be very detrimental to the business as it is precluded from new functionality and application upgrades and product suppliers support only limited numbers of historical versions.”

Du Plooy adds that while many product vendors supply means for integration to the application, the method differs depending on the technology. Integration interfaces should adhere to all business rules, the integration development must be backward compatible and unaffected by changes in the data structure or technology. Such a solution is initially more costly and requires development by the product vendor or a third-party proficient with the SDK.

“Successful integration of new specialist business software is much dependent upon using an effective and reliable SDK and it invariably involves writing some code whereas the seamless route opens up the database with attendant system security problems and the by-passing of the business rules, which is the greatest problem of all,” says Du Plooy.

When software is integrated into a legacy system without using an SDK, it is possible that functions normally automatically executed when a transaction such as an invoice is entered will be compromised and Du Plooy says this bypassing of the business rules can have very serious downstream implications.

He warns that there are a number of areas to watch. Firstly, how good and reliable is the SDK? Has it been regularly updated to keep it in “sync” with the software? Are the updates backwards compatible?

“It is essential that the core software developer ensures that its SDK is always current and well maintained, particularly if there are upgrades in which the data structure changes,” Du Plooy adds.

“But when all is said and done, the company looking for a business software solution has to choose between two options — an off-the-shelf package or a tailor-made solution. The off-the-shelf package will do the basics well but will invariably require coding adjustment and consultancy in the set up and then customisation to meet specific needs. The tailor-made solution is more likely to achieve the precise requirements of the company but it will be at far greater cost.”

The most workable option, the one that achieves an acceptable balance between doing what the company wants and cost, is to buy an off-the-shelf package and then customise it. However, Du Plooy cautions that companies should check that the dealer or developer doing the customisation has a track record, has the SDK, uses the same mechanisms as the proprietary package developer and adheres to the business rules.

“It is also important to ensure a single line of responsibility so that if the solution achieved is unsatisfactory, it can be rectified quickly and without the cost and time implications of having to resort to litigation. The answer is a one-stop-shop that implements the packaged solution, is able to develop and add sub-modules and customise certain applications to meet the customer`s requirements.”

Issued by: Thomas Molete Communications

Softline Lorge

Acctivity is a division of Softline Lorge producing specialist enterprise software and integrated solutions for ACCPAC accounting software. Softline Lorge, a company in the JSE-listed Softline group, is the leading and largest reseller internationally and in SA of ACCPAC. A team of professionals offers collective skills for added value services that provide accounting and business software solutions to meet the unique requirements of a company. Solutions are provided on a turnkey basis. Services include software installation, custom-designed software development, needs analysis, system configuration, training and assistance, implementation management and ongoing support and advice.

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