Using social media and digital connectivity, the industry is making great strides in connecting with and delivering increasingly personalized experiences with customers and potential customers. (But hopefully, not too personal).

However, in many cases, the back-end systems needed to link our ever-smarter front ends to corporate databases as well as rules and processing engines are still, well, back-end systems.

A recent survey of 423 IT and marketing decision makers, conducted by Forrester Consulting and sponsored by IBM finds that integration with back-office systems “is the biggest barrier to consumer-facing systems of engagement, and yet most enterprises aren’t investing to remove that barrier.”

Forty-two percent of respondents say that inadequate integration with back-office systems is the greatest barrier to developing better customer-facing systems. About a third mentioned inadequate security as an issue, while another third say they need a master data management strategy to make it all work.

At this point, only 22 percent of IT projects are integration projects — so there's a lot of work that still needs to be done in this area. As Forrester notes in its report, integration is not something that can be done in one big bang. Rather, it's a continuous process: “integration requirements never stop flowing, due to mergers and acquisitions, ongoing changes and upgrades to back-office systems, and the emergence of new business-process requirements for integration that existing solutions don’t address.”

The Forrester Report describes the integration requirements of systems of engagement:

Collection, analysis, and delivery of information in real time. This currently is not possible for many enterprises, with back-office integration solutions built for bulk and batch delivery of data and messages.

Information delivery to and communications with new devices. Increasingly, clients – both inside and outside the walls of the enterprise – are using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, versus standard PC interfaces. (A few years ago, who have imagined PC interfaces would be thought of as “standard.?)

Management of interactions across channels. Customers may first engage your company via smartphone access, then switch over to a call center or an agent as the relationship progresses. Is the information across the various channels consistent and aligned? 

Forester delivers the following recommendations to bake integration more deeply into an enterprises' DNA:

Work with the business. “IT leaders should identify and put in place shared processing and storage, content delivery services, integration, and analytic foundations that will help reduce the cost of accommodating many systems of interaction on a common base.”

Move toward service orientation and business process management. To enable these “systems of engagement,” IT planners need to surface critical processes and applications as services – this adds “new requirements for messaging, integration brokers, [service oriented architecture] and [enterprise service buses], and operational data stores.”

Address security and data consistency concerns head-on. Master data management (MDM) should be a top priority, to establish a trusted “gold copy” of customer data that can be shared  across systems and business units. Also, security, which is essentially “a moving target,” needs to be front and center of all efforts to open up accessibility.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at

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