As Chief Technology Officer at Integris, I have quite a bit of experience on integration teams. In fact, our team combined no fewer than ten different MSPs to create the large, national company we are today. It’s been exciting, exhilarating even—but certainly, not easy. Integrating our companies on a systems level has been the most eventful and challenging part of our growth.
So, as you might imagine, there’s been quite a few lessons learned about the right and wrong ways to expand during periods of extraordinary growth. These best practices are something we strive to pass along to our clients. If you’re facing a major systems integration at your company, I have lots of advice to offer.
Systems Integrations—a Mindset for Best Practices
Are integrations labor-intensive, foundational, and time-sensitive? Yes, but they don’t have to be difficult. There’s a lot your IT leadership can do to pave the way for your transition and create a combination of platforms that is greater than the sum of its parts. Done well, a systems integration can improve your productivity, supercharge your Google rank, and elevate the way your company works overall. The key is proper planning.
Of course, proper planning starts with understanding the best practices for systems integration. Let’s get into what those are and how to put them to use in your organization.
Seven Key Strategies for a Smooth Systems Integration
As an MSP working with more than 1000 small and midsize businesses across the United States, we are often asked to help our clients when they’ve had a company join them. These suggestions are key tactics that have helped us execute effective integrations for our clients.
Tip #1—Do a Thorough Compatibility Review Before You Merge Systems
Out of all the tasks you’ll have to do in an integration, determining the compatibility of your platforms is the biggest one. It’s your starting point—the time when you’ll thoroughly inventory all the programs, platforms, and software-as-a-service products (SaaS) for both affected companies. You should also be looking at the code that’s been written specifically for them, as well.
Once you’ve got your list, it’s time to ask questions.
- Are there any duplicate programs/platforms running?
- How does data flow through your organization and theirs?
- Are there any programs you’re running that would cancel out the effectiveness of programs your new company is running?
- What can be eliminated, and what needs to be combined?
- What functions wouldn’t get done if you eliminate a program or platform?
- If you combine a program or platform, what will break?
- Where will your integrated system be located? In a private data center? A public cloud? A private cloud? And will this combined system have the power to stand up to all your traffic and usage needs?
These are questions that need to be addressed by qualified systems engineers and, if possible, cybersecurity and compliance experts. These are foundational questions for your company. Investing now in the proper discovery will pay dividends for you later.
Tip #2—Develop a Plan for Merging your Websites and Internal/External Facing Portals
When should I take down our merged company’s website? It’s one of the most common questions we hear, and I say, “your mileage may vary.” How quickly you integrate a company’s brand and website properties will depend on larger business questions. No matter how quickly you make this transition, there’s one job every integration must include: creating a structured plan that everyone understands, including your marketing department.
Remember, any company that joins your company has value inherent in its online presence. Chances are good that they rank for Google search terms and keywords that could benefit your business. For instance, they may have an extensive blog library, which could be updated and merged with your own. They may have location pages which might also be beneficial to keep. And most critically of all, they may have customer or vendor portals that are a vital part of the way they do business.
Successful integration will rise and fall on what you keep and what you discard. So make those choices carefully. A thorough review of your traffic and ranking data could be critical. We recommend contacting a knowledgeable SEO marketing firm to help you make sense of these numbers.
Speaking from our own experience, we’ve merged hundreds of blogs from the companies that have joined ours. It’s made an enormous difference in our domain authority and searchability. For that reason, you may end up keeping more than you think.
Tip #3—Carefully Merge Company Emails and Internal Productivity Programs like Teams and SharePoint
We generally recommend merging emails as quickly as possible to facilitate communications between the companies. There may be a transition period when these new employees are listed as “external.” We also recommend that the companies find a way to merge their group chat functions like Microsoft Teams as quickly as possible for the same reason.
The earlier you can share town hall recordings, employee communications, and executive speeches, the better. Employees always perform at a higher level when they are well-informed and included as team members.
Tip #4—Perform a Cybersecurity and Compliance Policy Audit
If you’ve been doing your job of systems governance, both companies should have existing IT and cybersecurity policies written down. You should also have extensive reporting on incidents, breaches, and patching/monitoring reports for your systems. The combining companies may have similar or different, regulatory/compliance burdens.
All this documentation must be available for examination during your integration process. Ideally, highly trained cybersecurity experts should be handling this assessment. We’re lucky in this department, thanks to our national network of virtual chief information security officers (vCISOs) we employ at Integris. If you’re facing an integration and don’t have these resources, call us. We’d love to provide them for you.
Tip #5—Merge Online Stores and Think Through your Product Line
Can your customers order your product directly online? Do you have customer portals that house your customers’ unique purchasing and personal data? If so, your IT and marketing departments will have a lot of thinking to do about how, and if, you’ll be merging these products.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. How you handle this will depend on your unique business circumstances. But whatever path you choose, you’ll have to be methodical, laying out a clear work schedule for this transition. Your marketing department, systems engineers, programmers, backend vendors, and payment processors must contribute to the scheduling process. Ask their opinions early so they can point out every gate in the development process.
We also generally recommend that you have a safe staging site with a complete set of cybersecurity protections so you can test and vet any new customer-facing store before it goes live. This is an area that companies often leave exposed because they are not publicly accessible. But many hackers have found these sites, and all it takes is a few well-placed pieces of malware, and bad actors will have instant access to your databases when the staged site goes live. Layer on at least the same cybersecurity protections here as you would for your live site. Stay safe out there!
Tip #6—Create a Coordinated Data Backup and Disaster Recovery Plan
When you integrate your systems, it stands to reason, you have to integrate your backups too. This can be tricky, especially if you have operations across the country or corporate barriers. Suppose you keep legacy backup systems without integrating them. In that case, you run the risk of your entire system being disjointed in the event of a natural disaster or outage.
An integration is a great time to rethink your data backup usage needs, data recovery speeds, and how fast your backup systems need to run. We generally recommend that you have one cohesive backup and disaster recovery strategy. Then, we recommend that you have a backup to the backup—in other words, a secondary cloud-based system that could be activated in the event your primary backup fails. Having a cohesive backup system stored two different ways ensures you’re never down for long.
Tip #7—Employ a Data and Voice Network That’s Up to the Test
Each company involved in integration will have a data and voice network tuned to their usage and speed needs. However, once you integrate, those needs are going to change. Now is the time to reassess and find one compatible solution that will meet your needs now while allowing growth potential for the future. Will you use an existing provider and merely expand to the new offices? Or will you use another network provider entirely? Employ a systems engineering expert to help you navigate this decision based on real-world performance needs.
In the End, It’s About So Much More Than Integrating Your Systems
Your network and systems are the foundations for your productivity. Large-scale integrations are one of the best opportunities you’ll ever have to make significant improvements fast. You can build teamwork, improve communication, upgrade speeds and recovery times, and set your company on a bold new course for a more robust, merged future. All it takes is the right people asking the right questions at the right times.
If you need some expert help with your integration, Integris stands ready to help. We have offices in 13 states and a national network of experts who can help you, onsite and off. Here on our website, you can schedule a free consultation today.