Pros and Cons of Integrated and Interfaced Products
At first, you might think that this is simply just another marketing mumbo-jumbo, intended to grow those sales numbers for a specific product type, but this isn’t so. Hopefully, this article will be helpful to the ones who are still unsure about their future product choice, and to the ones who are unfamiliar with the topic. Let’s see the two main product types, their pros and cons, and the most important definitions that are required to understand the differences between the two product types.
What is an Interface?
A software interface is basically a bridge, which enables two programs to share information with each other. Interfaces are tools, especially, when the communicating programs were developed differently – they use a different programming language, or their sources are totally different. The communication in these cases usually uses a common, standard file format and controlled set of rules to enable information exchange between systems. Interfaces can be parts of a product (built-in), or separate programs which let users configure and deploy them on various systems. Interfaces often require separate application engines to digest and process this information to then talk to the software.
What is Integration?
Integration basically means, that different products work as one. This includes information exchange, meaning, that two or more systems won’t require a bridge to pass information, as they share the same code and database. It is highly advisable to implement integration in cases where you handle multiple systems, complex, real-time reporting tools, etc. ERPs are the best example for an integrated system, where all product related data is stored in the same place, gathered and mediated in real-time.
Integrated Products vs. Interfaced Products
The definitions above contain the basic differences between the two types of systems, where integrated products are capable of data exchange without requiring an additional bridge, while interfaced ones are not. This means, that the biggest differences between the two product categories comes down to the speed of data transfer, and the user workflow.
While interfaced products will require an addition step to synchronize or exchange data, integrated ones can instantly do so. Since their data is stored in the same place and there are no data-exchange difficulties, data synchronization is basically unnecessary, as all solutions share the same database. Interfaced products require some time for that previously mentioned, additional step. You can usually set your preferred data-sync frequency (once a week, twice a month, or even every 5 minutes). Therefore, with interfaced products you can also easily ensure that all your data is synchronized, however, real-time sync is unavailable.
The user workflow is also an important difference and this can be take on a variety of forms depending on the level of integration/interfacing available for the product. A product that is well integrated will fit seamlessly within the existing workflow of the application you are extending. This will help reduce user training and support issues that arise due to the different workflows requires to facilitate the same end result. An interfaced product will often times look and feel completely different that the host application. Additionally, they may require that a user move back and forth between applications to complete an entire segment of work.
Therefore, before picking a product type, consider your own business needs. Some will find, that syncing is only required every once in a while (interfaced products), where others will be surely looking for a real-time solution (integrated products).
Data Transfer – Mapping
There is another aspect of data transfer which you should be aware of, before making your decision. As interfaced systems do not share the same database, “mapping” may be required for code matching – enabling data transfer and updates. “Mappings” are the directories where information from one system goes into the other. These have to be constantly maintained, monitored, and in some cases, updated. In case you made a change to one of your systems, there is a chance that your mapping table also requires an update – as you need to ensure, that your program pulls information from the right place. This adds another “extra step”, when it comes to interfaced products. On the other hand, integrated solutions do not require mappings, or mapping updates. This is due to the fact, that they share the same database, meaning that all changes are automatically applied to each part of the system. Since there is no need, for extra processes, their chances for possible errors are also reduced, enabling you to enjoy better reliability and performance. It is simply indisputable, that integrated systems offer better speed (real-time data sync), while they also require less maintenance (no mapping updates required) and come with a more error-safe design.
Interface = Flexibility?
When it comes to interfaced products, it is important to mention an additional aspect: flexibility. While integrated products are usually single-vendor solutions, interfaced products come with an extra layer of flexibility. This means, that you are capable of choosing the best solutions on the market and implementing it to your existing system, without needing additional changes in other departments. The time needed for data exchange and sync might be higher compared to integrated products, however, you will be able to change all parts of your system anytime. Communication will be still available, even with totally different platforms. In the case of integrated systems, you are not able, or only with special restrictions, to change parts of your system. In case you are planning to replace one of your systems, an interfaced product can be more easily implemented, while integrated ones, might require additional changes to your existing system.
How To Choose
With this short summary, emphasizing the most important features of both product types, we hope that you got one step closer to a final decision. Make your decision based on your own, existing software environment, and your requirements concerning your future system. In case you are planning to implement a solution similar to an ERP and would like to have centralized information with one simple solution, integrated products might fit your needs better. However, if you are planning to apply highly specialized tools and looking for a way to have yourself the flexibility of mixing the best products, interfaced products might be your best choice.
The Pros and Cons
We have covered the most important pros and cons for both product types. Hopefully, this short article will help you to make a decision, when it comes to the Integrated vs: Interfaced question, where:
– Do not share the same database
– Might not share the same programming language or source
– Require time to sync data
– Require Mapping to ensure correct data fetching
– Provides flexibility (changeable system parts)
– More easily implemented into an existing system environment
– Do share the same database
– Share the same programming language and source
– Real-time sync is available
– No need for Mapping
– Less flexibility (changing system parts might need you to change other departments)
– Might need to upgrade to a full, single-vendor solution
As you can see, there are numerous pros and cons on both sides. While integrated products deliver outstanding speed and real-time data sync, interfaced products provide you with better flexibility. Integrated products are less easily integrated into existing system environments, while interfaced products require regular maintenance, and so on. Choosing one over the other simply comes down to your own needs and which fits better your own specific situation. Interfaced products might be better choices for organizations that want to keep their existing software while using different pieces for various tasks. While integrated products are recommended for the ones, who are looking for a fast, singular solution that is capable of delivering a centralized experience.