Top 8 questions to ask when evaluating integration solutions

Typical scenario users face when acquiring software systems: A vendor claims that they have integration with product xxx very quickly. What does that mean? How can we evaluate the quality of integration and remove the layer of sales/marketing BS? Here are 8 questions that may help in evaluating integration solutions:

1. Is there really a specific "adapter"?

It sounds strange that one needs to ask this but it is necessary. Vendors often claim that they have adapters without really having one. What they may have is a generic mechanism to integrate rather than a specific adapter.

2. Is there any documentation for the adapter?

This is a great differentiator. If there is specific documentation for the integration adapter, it is always a good sign.

3. Has it ever been implemented (in production)?

Another obvious sounding question (yet often does not get asked). If the integration is ever implemented by a customer, there is a good chance potential issues would have been resolved, and the vendor has experience with the other product. Description of the existing integration would help to get a better understanding on what is possible and what may be the potential problems.

4. Which versions of the software does the adapter integrate with?

When the adapter is used to integrate different software, it is essential to ask which versions of the software are supported to ensure the versions you have are supported.

5. How are the upgrades to software that are integrated handled?

The data models, inner workings, and interfaces of the software can change from version to version, especially when the vendor does not provide a public API. As a result, it is not surprising for integration solution not to work if you upgrade one of the software tools. It is important to find out how these challenges will be handled. How long will it take to upgrade (depends on the architecture and the implementation)? Is the vendor committed to provide an upgrade?

6. Has the integration adapter been implemented as is (out of the box) or customized ?

If the available adapter is implemented in production just by configuration, great. If it required customization, buyer beware, integration services may be required (and will cost you!). Try to determine how much customization was necessary, and what the associated cost was.

7. What does the integration actually do?

Vendors often claim integration without specifying the details of the functionality of the integration. The lack of functionality may get lost in the vagueness of the description. What is the purpose of the integration? Better yet, do you know why you want to integrate?

Rather than asking about integration as a generic term to the vendors (do you integrate with product xxx?), ask specifically about what you want to do. Customers often don't know the specific benefits/objectives of integration in advance (though they know it's needed from experience in general). Mailing lists, users groups are often good sources of information from the communities to gather some intelligence.

8. Is the integration solution supported through standard support channels?

If the integration solution is implemented in the field with significant amount of customization, you may not be able to use the standard support channels (since the solution may be classified as "custom"). Make sure to ask how/who will support the solution going forward, and if the standard support channels suppose to support the solution, check whether they actually know anything about the solution.