Photo appears courtesy of Susan. Shopping for data integration solutions is a long, sometimes overwhelming process. Before you start looking at demos and getting proposals, it’s important to sit down and decide what you need for your most basic integration requirements as well as your future requirements. In other words, the software should be flexible enough to grow with you. The next step is to get some initial information about the packages you are considering – what are its capabilities? Most software vendors have brochures about their particular package. That’s a good place to start so you can start comparing features and functions. To take that a step further, it’s a good idea to get answers to these key questions:
1. What communication methods are included? Many software packages, including Liaison’s Delta/ECS, come with the built-in capability of communicating with your trading partners and/or VAN via secure FTP and AS2, as well as SMTP and HTTP. Can your current software do that? Or are you paying annual maintenance for separate software packages to have that capability?
2. What operating systems does the software support? As vendors like Microsoft and IBM come out with new operating systems, is your current data integration and/or EDI software keeping up? Does the system you are considering support Windows 8? Making sure that your software and hardware remain compatible is a long view requirement in your selection process.
3. While file formats does the software support? Does your current software support EDI and spreadsheets but not JSON? How about XML? This is an up-to-the-minute issue in data integration. Every time we turn around there is a new darling that is going to make EDI obsolete (not going to happen), BUT you will want software that covers all your bases AND has a history of being on the cutting edge of new file formats.
4. Are major upgrades included in maintenance? I have seen a lot of companies fall behind in versions because they don’t want to pay for upgrades. See this blog where we wrote about this topic. Many software manufactures offer free upgrades included as long as you keep your maintenance current. This is important to factor in when you are deciding on a budget.
5. What kind of security protocols are included? If you are doing HIPAA transactions, does the software meet the minimum security requirements as set forth by HIPAA? Can you limit the data that users can view and/or manipulate based on permissions? And what about firewall protection? Does your software vendor have an option for sending and receiving data over the Internet without punching holes in your firewall?
These are the most basic questions, other than price, you should be seeking to answer as you start your search. I have seen many companies not do enough homework, get dazzled by glossy presentations and fast talking sales reps…and their software was missing an important piece they needed. This will prevent you from having a MacGyvered solution that does not earn its keep.