When it comes to managing daily operations, many companies use different software applications that have been bridged together, instead of a single, unified system. To connect these separate apps, they use software integrations known as middleware, which promises a connected system where data flows freely.  

Unfortunately, integrations come in all shapes and sizes. Some are built well, while others have been quickly thrown together by developers without enough knowledge or expertise. If construction firms want to create an efficient digital management system, then it’s important for them to evaluate the claims of software developers offering integrations.  

What Are Software Integrations? 

The first step is understanding what “integration” means. Integrating software is the process of bridging together two different software applications. The purpose is to combine all business software into a whole system. Integration is necessary when using software applications sourced from different developers or when adding a single-purpose application to a larger ERP system. 

When software is integrated properly, the connected apps will share data and streamline communication, collaboration and data sharing. When software is poorly integrated, however, it can make storing and accessing project data more difficult and time-consuming.  

This is because the quality of integrations varies dramatically, depending on the developer. For example, when companies have open APIs, an integration can be created by anyone – including developers who aren’t skilled. Open APIs is an application program interface that is freely available. With open APIs, any developer can get programming access to a piece of software and develop integrations that will allow the application to interact with other applications. Twitter, for example, has an open API that allows developers to create separate applications for scheduling tweets. 

Because claims of effective software integration are everywhere, it’s important to sift through and determine their validity. If an integration hasn’t been built with knowledge of the construction industry, firms may run into issues getting applications to share and receive data.  

Single Integration Point 

Sometimes, when separate pieces of software are connected, data sharing works in only one direction. This means that one app will send the data and one app will receive it, but they can’t share data back and forth. 

To explain further, here’s an example: a project management application pushes an invoice to the accounting department and to a CRM or opportunity management tool. Unfortunately, the client doesn’t pay the invoice and after several months, the bill becomes a debt that can’t be recovered. The integration between the project management app was only designed to push out data–not receive it. So, the information from accounting can’t be sent back to the PM system or the opportunity management tool. As a result, team members relying on the PM and opportunity management tools will be working off inaccurate information and may inadvertently bid on future projects with this client.  

In general, when data isn’t flowing freely through all channels of operations it can create: 

  • Data silos – data that is inaccessible to certain applications or areas of operation
  • Orphaned data– pieces of data with no home 
  • Conflicting/duplicate data – data entry errors
  • Add – double data entry

The flow of data is crucial for companies looking to streamline their operations. Construction firms need software vendors that will help them map out their data flow and figure out how all software applications can communicate and work together.   

The Spreadsheet Stopgap  

When systems aren’t working effectively people often turn to spreadsheets to make-up for inefficiencies. For instance, if one department doesn’t have access to data from another, they may create a spreadsheet to store and gather data for ready access. Since the data in the spreadsheets won’t be updated automatically, it will quickly become out of date.  

Similarly, if a company has only a couple of apps, instead of a full ERP system, they may be missing out on functionality. Rather than going through the hassle of integrating another new application, they could decide to turn to spreadsheets.  

But spreadsheets can be dangerous. Errors happen all too easily and a single typo can completely throw off an entire set of data. Spreadsheets also complicate data storage and sharing. If a firm must track down important documentation in the event of litigation, such as quality assurance checks, they may have difficulty finding and accessing the information.  

Finally, spreadsheets don’t give you the high-level analytics and insights that robust ERP systems can offer. While you may be storing data, you won’t be able to dive into what makes that data significant. In contrast, advanced construction software like CMiC, firms have access to several dashboards that provide high-level information for project management, resource planning and financials.  

Vendor-Approved Integrations 

To avoid falling prey to faulty integrations, the best strategy is to choose a unified construction software solution. By choosing a robust platform as your system of record, you’ll create a solid foundation for data management, storage and access.  

In addition, many vendors offering unified solutions will offer integrations with third-party applications to increase the functionality of your system. Because these integrations are built by the people who understand your main system of record, they’re much more trustworthy. CMiC, for example, has developed reliable integrations with a number of third-party applications to offer our clients greater functionality, while maintaining the integrity of the CMiC platform.  

Most importantly, by choosing a single software developer as your system of record, you’ll have access to technical support and training. Without a primary vendor, who will you turn to for help? Having multiple apps from different vendors will make troubleshooting more complicated, and if vendors react by pointing fingers and blaming other vendors, it will take longer to find a solution.   

In general, when a company is selling unified software it means they understand and are committed to data integrity and simplified operations. Put simply, they want to help their clients create a single source of truth. With unification as their central goal, their integrations with third-party apps will work to support the main ERP system.  

Integrating third-party apps into your larger ERP system is the best way to maximize functionality while streamlining digital operations. To learn more about integration possibilities, check out this guest blog from CMiC client Miron Construction.