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What is your best advice for successfully integrating software applications?
Do it thoughtfully and carefully. Focus on what you want out first. Sometimes, people start with technical issues, such as data volumes or interfaces, but you have to remember that you're integrating systems to solve a business problem, so start there. What business questions are you trying to answer? What reports do you need to answer them? What are the cases from a user perspective that require you to push data from one system to another? My point is that the business requirements need to lead the technical conversation, not vice versa.
As a CFO, my team faces some challenges that really raise the stakes for good integration. At Host Analytics Inc., we make some of the company's most important decisions using my team's reports and analysis. In public companies, finance has to report numbers to Wall Street. You can't afford to restate or revise based on an integration error.
Gaining visibility to your data sources
To achieve successful integration, you need to invest the necessary time into the scoping part of the project. You can't shortcut that. That avoids downstream errors in what you build and integrate. If you scope and execute the job properly, you should have clear visibility back to all of your data sources. For example, if you find an error in a cash flow statement, you can easily trace the error to the source.
The reality is that the less time we spend in finance worrying about technology and integrations, the more time we can spend helping the CEO and the executive team run the business. And the good news is that the cloud has dramatically simplified the integration challenge.
Cloud-based applications integration
For example, we use Salesforce for customer relationship management and NetSuite for ERP. We use our own product, Host Analytics, for forecasting, planning, consolidation and modeling. They're all cloud-based; and solid, flexible, reliable, low-cost connectors are widely available. We use Dell Boomi internally, which we offer with our product, but our customers are free to choose other alternatives and they often integrate with on-premises systems as well. The connection of these three systems is particularly powerful, seamless and automated in the cloud. We can easily configure the integrations to our needs, "set it and forget it," and get back to our day jobs.
For more on cloud-based analytics:
Defining cloud analytics
Was 2012 the year of cloud analytics?
Cloud business analytics faces hurdles
Finally, I'd encourage people to consider future needs, as they evaluate integration approaches and technologies. I see some companies get so focused on solving a short-term integration headache that they end up with a system or an approach that won't solve tomorrow's problems.
In finance, we're constantly challenging ourselves to be more forward-looking and agile, and to minimize risk. Part of why we make choices is so they can evolve with us as our team grows, our application footprint evolves and our processes change. Host Analytics is growing incredibly fast, and we picked systems that we know will grow with us. We don't have time for pit stops.
About the author: Ian Charles is CFO of Host Analytics, a company in Redwood City, Calif., that sells cloud-based corporate performance management applications. Previously, he was CFO partner at the Brenner Group, Joyent and Skava.
News Writer Dan Ring assisted with this article.
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