It can mean many different things, but when it comes to workflow, the ability to integrate is key. We asked a panel of experts some questions about the different types of integration, what it means to them, and how to make it work more smoothly.
This month's contributors:
Within the workflow sphere, what does integration mean to you?
John Capurso: Turning information residing in documents and other forms of hardcopy into digital files via document imaging is critical to incorporating it into Electronic Health Record (EHR) and document/information management systems. As a document scanner and capture software provider, successful integration to us means our document imaging solutions seamlessly support commercially available third-party solutions and custom one-off information management solutions as well.
John Swalwell: Integration is the combining of multiple programs, processes or services to create a cohesive end product meeting the requirements of the entire user community while leveraging technology to perform tasks that were previously completed through manual process intervention.
Matt Wells: At GE, integration is a key element to enabling the industrial Internet and greater efficiencies. It means seamless connectivity to your equipment, software, analytics and the cloud. It also means preserving legacy applications — allowing them to be augmented to leverage a rich set of software and analytics enabled by the Industrial Internet.
Alexandre Wentzo: Workflow integration is a cohesive communication and functionality flow within an organization that allows for a smoother operation. Integrating various teams, departments and products into a funneled approach that offers easier accessibility, understanding and ultimately results is what integration means to me.
What are the biggest barriers when it comes to integration?
Capurso: The lack of standards for integrating document imaging into a number of EHR and document/information management systems represents the largest challenge in integrating capture software and scanners. Without standards, there is the need for APIs (application programing interfaces) or SDKs (software development kits), or worse, custom coding of drivers or application software.
Swalwell: In my experience the most challenging barriers are encountered when working with legacy or highly specialized hardware and/or software. Aged technology often suffers from an inability to offer interoperability with other platforms. Whether a physical or programmatic connection, how well a product can “play with others” is most often dictated by its age. API’s and other toolkits often fail to exist with legacy software systems. Hardware and media can suffer from the same issues and was illustrated in an extreme example in the now-complete Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP). In many cases, overly specialized or unique platforms did not require the open platform requirement we now expect when they were initially commissioned or acquired.
Wells: In the world of industrial workflow, one of the biggest barriers to be managed is disruption to production. To avoid disrupting existing production, we usually start small by connecting with one machine or several versus an entire plant at one time. You can understand the utilization of your equipment, tweak processes, then extend as you gain confidence. You can move from starting small to then more machines and other equipment, a whole area, an entire plant, to global.
Wentzo: Working with software and hardware can become quickly challenging, and even more in a cloud environment. I believe one of the challenges over the next five years is to facilitate the integration between an “on premise” installation and a cloud one.
What do you look for in potential partners to ensure smooth integration of products/services?
Capurso: The partners to whom we look in collaborating should provide APIs and support to fully integrate the document imaging process and software into the total solution. They also must have a focus on the similar or complementary customer segments and vertical markets. This ensures that commitment to technology in both time and resources.
Wentzo: Communication and understanding is key. Managing expectations and offering a realistic overview of what is to be expected and achieved. Overall, a partner of any capacity should have a general understanding of the process that helps achieve a smooth integration, and previous success stories.
What, if any, role does automation play within integration?
Capurso: The purpose of integrating document imaging and digitalization of information residing in hardcopy should result in automating the total business process. To help achieve this goal, the installation of it should be automated and wizard guided.
Wells: Automation should play a significant role in integration, including integrating data from various systems, structuring and contextualizing the data, and bidirectionally orchestrating across systems. In fact, our industrial workflow solution itself can serve in this role – providing system orchestration based on real-time data and events.
Wentzo: Automation does play a key role in integration. Anything integrated into a process or plan plays a role. With automation you are adding yet another automatic control that operates on technology that reduces human intervention and error but also opens up technical errors, and speeds up the time of each transaction. The real issue is what are we trying to automate. It becomes strategic to ensure the targeted process has been well designed and optimized in order to avoid multiplying the inefficiencies during the automation.
What are a few best practices for involving your workforce in the integration process?
Capurso: When integrating our document capture solutions, our subject matter experts should be tapped in helping design the workflow and, importantly, optimizing the user experience. When we support our channel partners during the installation process, we provide complete installation support and can install our solutions for the partner if needed.
Swalwell: When scoping the requirements for an integration, the workforce must be involved early and often. Without appropriate inclusion of stakeholders and end users alike, the desired end result is often misjudged. Technologists often fail to uncover the need behind the need. In-depth, ongoing communications provide an opportunity to clarify and re-clarify specifics as the project evolves.
Wentzo: Communication and collaboration. Ensuring a seamless integration process begins with communicating the process itself. This requires a thorough understanding of the process that is communicated from top to bottom and back up the ranks.
Where is the integration process most likely to go wrong?
Capurso: From our viewpoint and experience, two aspects can go amiss in the successful implementation of document imaging solutions: End users of the solution not being fully on board with accepting change or expectations that are unrealistically set; and ISVs (independent software vendors) not opening up or selectively not opening relevant aspects of their solution for integrating third party products and software.
Wentzo: In integrating technology and architecture of different types and ages. The lack of standards is a real issue for anyone.
Are there any ways to make integration less complex?
Capurso: There is one fundamental approach to making integration of document imaging solutions direct and straightforward — the development of industry standards to streamline integration and data interoperability of document imaging solutions. For example, we have many healthcare customers who use our document imaging solutions. In the healthcare realm, HL7 is a set of standards for transferring clinical and administrative data between healthcare software applications, and the DICOM standard governs transmitting, storing and printing of medical images. There is nothing like those for data interchangeability when digitizing information residing on hardcopy. Let’s face it, there is a lot of critical information residing in hardcopy, resulting in an ever-growing need to integrate it into digital format with obvious benefits of search, retrieval and integration of this information. The lack of universal standards in accommodating document imaging adds unnecessary barriers, and, in the end, complicates the process.
Swalwell: We seek out partners and partner products that offer the largest footprint covering the needs of the entire organization, thereby minimizing the need for the integration of disparate products and/or platforms. When we considered business management software in the past, we typically were forced to buy specific products that managed a key aspect or process and then added additional products to allow for data aggregation, communication between, or oversight of the cluster that had been assembled. Old school single-function products required an excessive number of add-on products and development to manage what a more capable platform provides through its base functionality. In the past, enterprise products like these were only available to larger organizations; this has changed.
Wentzo: Defining clear standards and ensuring every vendor uses them.
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Workflow.