Connect instead of replacing your systems

What is it all about?

The foundation of effective operations lie in business processes, through which the enterprise operates. To support certain steps of these processes, different systems are used: invoicing is done by a billing solution, customers are managed in a CRM system, while error reporting is managed in a ticketing system. However, the mentioned processes are not considering the limits of certain systems, nor do they "care" about which system we would like to use to complete them. Therefore it is most common that completing a business process involves more systems - or even more departments - making it inconvenient to manage all data and events occurring meanwhile. It usually takes a lot of time and work to move all necessary data from one system to another and to involve the right people from the right department at the right time. It seems to be logical to assume that there should be a solution to these problems. The good news is, there actually is a way to connect all our systems on the level of business processes. Advanced workflow systems can function as a middleware - connecting other systems and automatically moving data among them - solutions, providing exactly these features. Let's explore the opportunities deeper!

How to connect our systems on the level of business processes?

Connection between It systems usually mean an interface enabling the connected systems to "see" each other’s data and transfer it among them as needed. Although such a simple interface is also of great help compared to separate IT systems or manual data moving, it does not support the completion of whole business processes at all, and also they  not able to manage enterprise data. Hence, it is necessary to clearly identify the process and the business problem we are intending to resolve. Once we can identify the business challenges we are facing - as clearly as possible - we will see which systems might best support us in creating a solution. (No system will resolve all our challenges anyway...) At this point it is worth to consider our suggestion: use a workflow system that acts as a middleware among other IT systems to create connections AND manage the business process the other - now connected - systems are involved in. At the same time, a middleware solution will certainly enable us to automate at least some parts of our business processes - if not the whole process!

What is a middleware?

Middleware solutions are software tools supporting the functionality of OSs or making separate IT systems integrated. Moreover, middleware is able to serve other applications in order to support their functionality - without being part of these systems. Middleware is essentially the"glue" holding an IT ecosystem with various software components together. It is the invisible hero, helper of administrators and developers, managing security, communication and even service functions in the background, thus taking charge for exhausting human tasks. Middleware can be specific, unique or universal. Universal middleware solutions are usually based on advanced workflow engines, enabling business process management and automation while connecting the systems any IT infrastructure - within or outside an organization - and supporting users' daily work.

How to maximize the efficiency of existing IT systems?

In today's advanced technology environment it is not possible for your company to operate without proper IT systems and at least some automation. Purchasing and operating such systems might be costly, therefore it is not always recommended to change them in order to achieve added functionality. Furthermore, colleagues, partners and the management might have get used to the existing systems - everyone knows how to use them, where to find relevant functions and so on. The fact that newer or fancier systems are available, does not necessarily mean that your systems should be replaced in case the existing environment is serving your business needs well. On the other hand, as time goes by and your company expands, more and more gaps become present among your systems, as business process are becoming more complex. So what if instead of replacing the existing IT systems there would be a way to fill these gaps by connecting your systems and - at least partly - automating your processes? Good news is the technology to do that is available! It is called middleware, as mentioned already. Middleware can connect systems, hence filling the gaps occurring among them while workflows are able to fully manage your business processes. A comprehensive system such as xFLOWer does both: workflow manages business processes, relying on the middleware functionality to use data from all involved systems while completing a process. Let's see an example for connecting your systems on process level!

Workflow and middleware example

The following drawing shows a simplified example of an automated process using different systems' data to complete a process - without human interaction at all!

As it is visible, the process itself runs in the workflow system, while - by harnessing the power of middleware - the process uses data from a number of different systems to complete the process - namely CRM and financial systems are connected here. (in reality more complex connections and processes can be defined and automated in workflow systems - however, the above example shows the advantages of connecting systems) Data flow is bi-directional (can be omni-directional too) so the workflow not only reads data from the connected systems, but after updating these, it can also write back the modified data to keep everything up to date in all systems. It is important that the process itself runs in the workflow system, so automating such processes can only be done by using a workflow system together with the middleware. 

Conclusion

Daily operations may rise a number of different situations in which data is needed from multiple systems. Copying, moving and updating data from and to multiple systems is not only time-consuming but also frustrating, causing high level organizational inefficiencies. Frustration with operations might lead you to look for replacements for your systems, however it is always a good idea to look for more cost effective alternatives. In this case, the alternative is implementing a workflow and middleware solution that is able to connect your systems, automatically move data among them and automates your processes at least partially. (In some cases completely). Since most business processes involve documents (PDFs, emails, faxes, Word files, Excel  files, scanned documents and so on) it is a really nice to have feature to have document management functionality with your workflow. Consider connecting instead of replacing - it almost always worth the time and energy to look for connective solutions!