Written by Jonathan Richter
Do you own or operate a business that relies on multiple parties to deliver your product or service? If so, then you probably have some experience with Business Process Integration (BPI).
Figuring out how various systems and data can interact and streamline business processes has become increasingly important. Historically, BPI wasn’t something small businesses might encounter, but this is changing with the rise in popularity and accessibility of third-party software systems.
However, achieving integration between systems can be surprisingly difficult. The applications and data structures an organization uses might not have been developed with connectivity in mind. Furthermore, as an organization grows their business processes and systems tend to get more complex.
All these variables can add up and make integration challenging, both technically and conceptually. When it comes to integration, you need an application that is flexible, secure, and scalable. That’s why Winnona Partners helps organizations conceive of and implement this type of infrastructure from day one.
So why is learning about BPI helpful? If your business relies on technology as many do, you’ll find that understanding how multiple businesses align their processes together helps you think of better ways to streamline your own process. In addition, you can prepare yourself for the challenges associated with BPI, and therefore make more informed business decisions.
In this article, we’ll define what BPI is, and the key concepts to know. As a result, you’ll walk away with a clearer understanding of how and why organizations implement BPI solutions. Let’s dive in!
- Business Process Integration (BPI) Definition
- Why Do Organizations Pursue BPI?
- Common Integration Roadblocks
- Two Useful Categories: Application Integration & Data Integration
- Business Process Integration (BPI) vs Business Process Management (BPM) Integration
Business Process Integration (BPI) Definition
So what’s the definition of BPI? Business Process Integration (BPI) is when multiple organizations across multiple verticals seek to improve their operations and reach their desired enterprise goals by aligning and/or automating their business processes.
People typically discuss BPI from a technological standpoint. In fact, some argue the term Business Process Integration originates from the digital transformation boom.
One common question you might ask a mutual business party is: “How can our systems better talk to each other?“. This is where BPI comes into play.
Ultimately, the main purpose of BPI is to allow software systems and services to unite parts of their business processes, and/or secure data sharing between numerous applications.
Want to learn more about business process terminology? Check out our related article: Business Process Terms & Definitions: Top 7 Concepts You Should Know
Why Do Organizations Pursue Business Process Integration?
We’ve defined what BPI is, but why do organizations find BPI valuable? Here’s some of the common reasons why a company might want to explore business process integration:
- Remove friction between organizations. Are there a lot of unnecessary steps or hand-offs between your company and a partner organization? Can you streamline your business processes with a technical integration solution? How much would it improve your mutual processes?
- Feature enhancement. Have you come up with a technical feature that could help your operations, but is too expensive or time-consuming to develop in-house? In most cases, it’s a smart idea to check and see if a third-party solution already exists for the feature you need. If it’s easy to integrate with, this might be a viable and cost-effective option.
- Data consolidation and/or augmentation. Does your data all exist in one place? Is it organized across branches, departments, employees, etc? Are you able to quickly and easily export spreadsheets or generate reports for various metrics system-wide? The ability to consolidate data from various internal and external sources, view, and interact with that data dynamically is an important reason why people explore BPI.
- System migration. Is your organization developing a custom software system? Has your company been bought out or are you acquiring another firm? If so, you’re probably wondering how to migrate data from one system to another. In either of these scenarios, integration is inevitably going to come into play.
Common Integration Roadblocks
Integration is an exciting and potentially powerful way to improve your digital business process. However, there are many challenges people face when deciding whether or not they should pursue BPI.
Here are some of the common mental roadblocks you might encounter when considering BPI:
- A vendor has poor API documentation. Believe it or not, this happens quite often. If you’re unable to conduct proper research online initially, you might have to get in touch with someone directly to determine what’s possible. If their online documentation is poor, you can expect time delays and more potential roadblocks ahead.
- There are unexpected technical limitations. When it comes to integration, before assuming it can happen quickly and easily, you need to understand what’s possible from a technical standpoint. That’s why the above point about documentation is so important. Is the third party set up and ready to integrate with various external systems? Is your system capable of connecting with theirs? Do you have the qualified software developer talent needed to make this happen?
- Capabilities change over time. Integrating with other systems can streamline processes and save money and effort compared to developing a feature yourself. However, occasionally the systems you integrate with undergo technical changes. If you integrate with any third party system, be prepared to make adjustments over time. Necessary changes might include editing code, increasing monthly payments (if applicable), or eliminating features all together.
- Realizing the business process you’re integrating is incorrect or not optimal. Aside from technical limitations or roadblocks, you might come to realize that an integration method was unnecessary or not the optimal path forward. This can be an expensive mistake! Try your best to apply business process analysis through mapping and modeling prior to BPI development.
Two Useful Categories: Application Integration & Data Integration
Before deciding which specific system you’d like to integrate with, it’s a good idea to think about your integration goals more broadly.
In his whitepaper research on the topic in collaboration with Microsoft, David Chappell of Chappell & Associates divides integration into two useful categories: Application integration and Data integration.
• Application integration, where the focus is on connecting different applications. One common reason for doing this is to automate more of a business process.
• Data integration, where the goal is to work more intelligently with data. This most often means keeping the data synchronized across systems or creating a data warehouse.”David Chappell – Creating Business Value Through Integration
Is it possible for organizations to explore a hybrid integration approach that includes both of these categories? Absolutely! However, thinking about integration in this dichotomy is a useful starting point to explore the goals and needs of integrating your business process.
The goal of application integration is to help automate business processes by connecting two or more applications. Application integration can occur within the same organization, or across multiple organizations. Since BPI specifically deals with integration methods across organizations in a B2B capacity, that will be the focus of this section.
Modern web applications like the ones we develop for clients will typically have the capability to integrate with external systems. This is usually handled via an Application Programming Interface (API). APIs are popular because they allow companies of various sizes to leverage powerful features of other established systems.
To a lesser extent, even website plugins like those found on WordPress are a means of application integration.
So What’s the difference between application integration and data integration? The key difference is that application integration allows organizations to leverage new features in order to streamline or improve a business process.
My Panda is one of our mobile app clients that helps people get their to-do lists done by local service providers (called PANDAs). During the holidays, the founders discovered a huge demand for purchasing gift cards to redeem for their service. Aside from convenience, gift cards are an excellent way to build traction and acquire new customers who might not have otherwise tried the service.
Rather than build a complex gift card feature from scratch, we implemented an already existing application called Gift Up. With one tap, customers can easily purchase a gift card to use at checkout.
As a result, we were able to save our clients tons of time and thousands of dollars in development cost by integrating this third party application with the mobile app, internal administration portal, and Stripe!
While application integration is a substantial endeavor that can open up new possibilities for businesses, data integration can also be extremely helpful for organizations looking to connect their business processes.
Two common categories of data organizations tend to care about are transactional data and analytical data.
Transactional data might include core data about customers, revenue, profit, expenses, etc. This critical data is what’s shared most commonly across organizations when they choose to integrate.
Analytical data focuses more on metrics about the business as a whole, such as employee performance or measuring the time it takes to complete milestones, etc. This type of data is most useful for leaders looking to improve their internal business processes, rather than B2B.
One of our clients uses Hubspot for their contact forms and lead tracking for advertising campaigns. On any given form, they might collect fields such as name, email address, and phone number.
Once the campaign ends, they need to migrate that data over to the custom CRM our firm developed with them. This custom CRM fits their business hierarchy and industry-specific rules with superior control, precision, and specificity compared to what the enterprise system offers.
So how did we get these two systems to talk to one another? Rather than requiring employees to manually input the data multiple times, we needed to come up with a solution that could be quick and cost-effective.
The fact that marketing doesn’t always use static fields or a fixed process added to the complexity of the problem from an integration standpoint. After all, this approach is common for a dynamic marketing team that needs to adapt to changes on the fly!
Considering this, we agreed that the best approach would be to start with a .csv file export/import feature. This allows their team to export all the data they want from Hubspot regardless of whether or not their field types match the ones our system expects.
Upon import, they have full control over which fields gets imported and where. Then, and we handle the data syncing component. Once imported, the data gets used in various ways both internally and with the aid of other third-party systems.
Eventually we’ll develop a more robust data integration method to further connect their data sources. However, in the short term–with so many unknown variables at play–this has proven to be an effective, quick fix that still addresses the concern of data integration.
Business Process Integration (BPI) vs Business Process Management (BPM) Integration
As previously mentioned, the term BPI is used to discuss the applications and/or data interconnectivity between multiple organizations. However, there’s a similar term called business process management integration (or BPM integration).
While BPI considers integration between multiple entities, BPM integration focuses on connecting multiple systems that may exist within the same singular entity.
So what’s an example of BPM integration? For instance, let’s say a marketing team decides they want to start an email campaign for customers making the most monthly purchases. To achieve this, marketing might need to pair their customer data with their purchasing history from the accounting department. Since this is a matter of connecting internal systems, one would consider this BPM integration rather than BPI.
BPM is an important business process term worth familiarizing yourself with, as it helps you think about how business processes relate at a high level. In fact, one could argue that BPM is the definitive term for analyzing, creating, and reinventing business processes.
When it comes to BPI vs BPM integration terminology, you’re unlikely to find many people who know the difference. However, BPI is generally a much more labor-intensive and conceptually challenging process compared to BPM integration. This is due to the fact that there’s external entities to consider, all of which may have independent processes or limitations. By knowing the difference between these concepts, you’re ahead of the curve!
Do you work closely with multiple organizations to deliver your product or service to customers? If so, you all might benefit from BPI!
Although it can be challenging, BPI is a powerful approach to application development. Effective integration can save customers and employees time and money, simplify your process, and strengthen your relationship with partner organizations you do business with.
If you want to take advantage of advanced features through application integration, or if you want your data to be more consolidated and malleable, integration is an approach you should seriously consider.
If you have more questions or are wondering how to get started with business process integration, contact us today!