The words like “integration”, “integrated”, and “integration-ready” are ubiquitously found in almost every print software sales process. Take a look at the websites of all the print and photo software vendors and there will undoubtedly be a page or section dedicated to everything they have “integrated” with.
So what does all this integration really mean?
Integration can be executed across a wide spectrum of functionality and costs. One example of a simple integration is one system needs the data from another system. So you programmatically have system 1 drop data into a folder for system 2 to pick up on a regularly scheduled timeframe. This simple integration works well, is pretty inexpensive to implement, and easy for most people to understand, support, and maintain.
On the other end of the spectrum there are complex and expensive integrations that involve real-time exchange of data between two systems in a bi-directional fashion. For example, a photo book solution pushes an order to a Print MIS or the backoffice CMS, the order status then gets pushed back from the CMS so the customer can view their shipment status and tracking number on the photo book or web-to-print solution.
One of the worst questions you could be asked during a print or photo software sales process is:
“Can your system integrate with X system?”
Integration is not a yes/no question.
The question above is far too general and leaves open the ability to say “yes” by almost any vendor out there. Most modern print software packages “can” integrate with just about anything. Yes, they “can” with the LARGE and often unsaid and hidden clause “You give us enough time, effort, and money – then anything is possible.” The specificity of your integration questions during a sales process is critical to getting accurate information about what your bank account and frustration level will be after the sales process is over.
Here are some examples of more specific integration questions:
1. What specific data is passed between the two systems?
2. How often is data passed between the two systems?
3. What format is the data in when it’s passed?
4. Does data flow in both directions (e.g. bi-directional integration)?
5. What happens when one system goes down and what is the contingency plan?
6. How does the integration recover after a failure?
7. Is there a log where we can view the data exchange between the two systems?
8. Will this integration survive upgrades of either system?
9. Is there a cost to integration? (e.g. some vendors charge for connections or for access to their A.P.I. (application programming interface).
10. Do I need programming resources on my side to make this integration work?
Complex, bi-directional integrations are not always necessary. You really have to focus on the business challenge you’re trying to solve. Do you have a real-time business challenge or do you have a daily integration challenge? This is a question you as a print house should be asking yourself. There are endless features you can add to make integrations better; but nothing should be done without a business return on investment (ROI) tied directly to the effort that you would need to put in.
How do you decide when to invest in integration? You really need to do some basic time research of recurring tasks in order to estimate the ROI. Look for recurring tasks that happen every day, like manual entry of jobs coming from your web-to-print solution. You can just time-schedule a few of them to get an average and then look at the order volume. You will then perhaps have a better overview of the labor costs of this task that is the result of two non-integrated systems. This can be ONE of many business objectives of investing in integration. At the end of the day, it is a very clear arithmetic; we want to save XX minutes every day of your CSR staff by automating tasks so they can spend more time on complex projects or getting trained on new product offerings thus increasing their productivity.
In any integration, one should have very clear business objectives FIRST. The tendency is to drop into the technical details too quickly and suddenly you’re arguing about web services and XML structure yet nobody on the call understands the overall business objective of the integration. So many projects like this go off the radar because everyone assumes they understood everything, therefore nobody takes the time to commit to writing the business objectives down. When the business objectives are written down and reviewed by all parties (technical and business) then the outcomes are much more likely to be business driven and not technically driven. The success of an integration project is always judged by its impact on the business.
With regards to integration, there could be some web-to-print providers claiming to offer high-end web-to-print solutions and they may have been in business for years but don’t really understand that what web-to-print technology really means or the way it works. Tasks such as integrating an online editor into an Ecommerce website or integration of a photo book software to suit the exact workflow & provide seamless automation helps in easing out processes for print houses as they are only provided with what they require and not something that is already a part of their workflow in the name of Print Ecommerce by such companies. Integrating such solutions is a task that requires cutting edge software skills which cannot be guaranteed by providers who sometimes fail to understand the difference between Technology and a Mango Pickle.
Any reputed photo book and web-to-print related Software Company that uses advanced technologies will get integration requests that are basically proposed solutions to an undefined challenge. A print house or photo lab will call and say, “We want an XML file out of this system, so we can handshake it with this system – can you do this for us?” A good implementation question is to always revert with a “why?” question because it’s revealing and it always forces technical people to think through their proposed solution based on business objectives instead of technical preferences. Technical people like to talk about technical topics. Business people don’t like to talk about technical topics. Intelligent investing into technical projects requires that both parties come to the table and get in alignment around the business objectives first so that work happens in a synergy. Define the challenge, define the desired outcomes, define how you will fathom success, and then dig into how to technically pull it all off.
With Pixopa Web-to-Print that uses advanced Open-Source Technologies like HTML5 & Magento Ecommerce, integration with your systems is always seamless. W2P solution is always an essential part of a Print Ecosystem and Pixopa will certainly be a valuable asset for your business. Contact us today to know how Pixopa Web-to-Print Ecommerce can help you with integration.