ERP Integration For Dummies

Posted by Harshit Mehta, Extensions Consultant on June 5, 2014

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning…” - Albert Einstein

In this blog, I want to discuss theories and best practices on ERP integration which I learned over a period of time at Deltek. First, let me explain what ERP integration is all about.

What is ERP integration?

Do you use an Apple or Windows operating system? If yes, then you already have experienced a seamless integration where multiple technologies communicate with each other with or without your knowledge. With ERP systems, you need to be more careful because we are now talking about a huge amount of financial data and ERP integrations may have direct impact on your day-to-day business events.

ERP integration is the process of integrating separate ERP or IT systems with each other in order to provide a seamless and unified user experience. In this process, these systems share or receive data frequently with each other to function properly and give you up-to-date information. For example, if you use Deltek Maconomy for finance management and Deltek People Planner for resource management then both of these system need to communicate and share data with each other such as employee information, project details, task lists etc.

Why is ERP integration important?

It is unwise to say that a single, generic ERP system can fulfil all of your IT needs and solve any and every business problem without any business risk whatsoever. That sounds like a sales pitch from a sales team from a generic ERP vendor. It may sound good in theory, but is not practical when businesses are looking for a specialised and purpose-built ERP solution that works within a specific industry such as Professional Services. In this era of rapid technological development, purpose-built ERP systems are more popular than one-for-all solutions. It simply means you may require a number of complimentary systems in order to cater for different business needs. This leads to a situation where integration is required. And, it is more important than ever that they communicate with each other seamlessly.

Every major ERP implementation requires integration at some point in time to communicate with other systems and to increase efficiency. It has potential to be difficult if questions about integration are not addressed at an early stage in the implementation process. Therefore, it is important to understand the different factors involved along with the risks associated.

What are the challenges of ERP integration?

ERP integration can be challenging and require lot of input from system owners and ERP solution providers. The integration process needs to be designed carefully based on individual business requirements. Let us discuss three key challenges for integration process which you should be aware of:

  1. Data ownership and direction of flow

    For each data entity, it is important to identify which system owns the data. For example, if system A owns project data then system A’s users are allowed to read, create, update or delete projects from system A. However, system B users will only be allowed to read the projects and they cannot create, update or delete projects on system B. This means that the direction of data flow for projects will always be from system A to system B.

    Defining data ownership and direction of flow is very important in order to maintain data integrity and to avoid confusion for the user. The direction of flow can differ for each data entity, for example, if system A owns projects and tasks then system B can own employees, vendors and customer data. This can vary depending on business requirement.

  2. Data integrity and frequency of data synchronisation

    In the context of ERP integration, data integrity is to ensure that shared data is up-to-date on all participating systems at any given time. If data is outdated on any one system then it may result in problems such as data inconsistency. As a result, the output which you expect from an outdated system may not be accurate.

    In order to maintain data integrity, you need to decide how frequently data synchronisation should happen. In a perfect world, we expect real-time data synchronisation for all entities; however, this may not be practical because ERP systems often rely on huge amounts of data. Real-time data synchronisation can have a direct impact on system performance and result in poor user experience.

    In most cases, data synchronisation can be automated and scheduled at regular intervals. For synchronising large data, it is advisable to schedule programs overnight when system use is at a minimum.

  3. Data mapping

    Data mapping requires in-depth knowledge of entities and business requirements. This challenge arises due to the fact that database design might be different on all participating systems. Hence, they may use different terms to identify the same thing; for example, if system A identifies project number using database field “ProjectNumber” then system B may call it “ProjNum”. Conceptually, both may refer to same piece of information but it just requires to be mapped.

    You may also need to deal with data types and formats. For example, dates might be stored as “01/01/2014” in one system and as “2014-01-01” in another.

    In some cases, you may also require further processing of data. For example, you may store just full employee name in one system and split it to first, middle and last name in another system.

    All of these things need to be considered while mapping data between different systems. There are middleware applications available to handle this kind of conflict but it may not be suitable or financially viable for all businesses.

What are the different methods of ERP integration?

From a user perspective, ERP integration can be divided into two main categories i.e. manual and automated. Manual integration is defined as the integration which is triggered manually by system user, for example, Deltek People Planner allows you to manually import data from Deltek Maconomy. In an automated method, data integration can be pre-defined and scheduled at regular intervals or based on events.

From a technology perspective, ERP integration can be achieved using following methods:

  • Direct database integration (Remote / Local)
  • Data imports using flat / CSV files
  • Web services
  • Or combination of above using programming language

Deltek Maconomy supports all of the above methods. It already has proven experience of integrating with resource management tools such as People Planner and workflow management tools such as TrafficLIVE.

How do I find more information?

This is just a high level overview of ERP integration. I’ll be discussing more about some of the integration methods in more details in upcoming blogs… so stay tuned!

If you are looking for more specific information or require assistance with integrating Deltek Maconomy with your existing systems then feel free to contact your Deltek account manager.