How to Integrate Software without a Hitch

Article excerpt

HOW TO INTEGRATE SOFTWARE WITHOUT A HITCH

In today's complex business world, accountants increasingly are called on to help plan and install computerized business systems. In this article, Ira R. Weiss, CPA, PhD, dean of the Madrid Business School, Madrid, Spain, and Durairaj Asaithambi, CPA, an accounting systems project supervisor at Houston Lighting & Power Co., Houston, out-line guidelines for a successful installation. The authors acknowledge the contribution of Thomas J. Farfell, manager, Houston Lighting & Power Co., to this article.

Most businesses rely heavily on computer software to handle accounting, purchasing, inventory and other operations. But often they are not satisfied with stand-alone software because they want to integrate it with other, complementary programs to do more complex jobs.

For example, if the accounting department's software could "talk" to purchasing's and the sales department's software, much data-entry duplication could be eliminated. In addition, with such a link, data on materials ordered by purchasing instantly could be incorporated into accounting's computer to produce up-to-the-minute information on cash flow and other financial and inventory information.

Linking discrete and diverse programs so they work seamlessly--that is, as if there is no apparent separation between them--takes considerable planning. But once the integration is accomplished, the resuiting software system is cost-effective and should pay for itself within one to six years.

GUIDELINES FOR SUCCESS

Following are practical guidelines for senior management, project teams and accountants involved in the design and implementation of integrated systems:

1. Management commitment. An organizational change as major as this one requires the full support of senior management. If management fails to communicate the importance of the project to the staff, chances are it will fail no matter how well it is planned.

2. Project team. Many integrated software projects fail, or are only no better than marginally successful, because key people are left out of the development loop and the responsibility for designing the system is given exclusively to management information systems professionals. These technical experts may know software integration and management techniques, but probably not the detailed needs of the users and the environment in which the system will operate. As a result, the project team should include representatives of the user groups.

In addition, a steering committee comprising the managers of each user department and chaired by the highest-ranking manager should oversee the project. It should consider cost-benefit priorities, staffing, changes the system will require in the work environment, as well as changes in the business environment affected by the system. It also should be able to resolve interdepartmental problems that cannot be solved by the project team.

3. Evaluation of platforms, tools and methods. A complex project requires careful evaluation of more than just the specific software under consideration. The team also must look at the choice of computers, the operating system and the network to be sure they can accommodate the jobs envisioned for them. …