Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

By Giovanni Spiteri

It’s no secret that companies need to integrate systems to fully take advantage of the proliferation of customer data across the enterprise—including data from CRM, ERP, marketing automation and more.

Unfortunately, according to Scribe’s annual State of Data Integration study, to date, only 16 percent of businesses report full integration between customer-facing systems, despite the fact that at least 70 percent of companies ranked integration between CRM, business intelligence, customer service, marketing and ERP systems as important.

The lack of integration is causing significant problems. In an Oracle-commissioned study, integration challenges caused 54 percent of businesses surveyed to experience staff downtime, and 54 percent to miss important deadlines.

The best customer experience necessitates organization-wide access to a 360-degree view of the customer, but unfortunately, most businesses lack that central collective intelligence. The data tends to be siloed within departments, which makes it close to impossible to deliver the optimal customer experience. This is why more businesses are bringing on systems integrators to help improve their levels of integration, which in 2013 saw a 14 percent increase from 2012.

To move toward a connected enterprise, companies first must gain a core understanding of the value proposition behind making data easily accessible. Systems integrators help companies understand the strategic reason for integration before jumping to the tactical components.

Integration: Not About IT or Data

Even with the right intentions, businesses run into problems that derail integration initiatives, both before and during the project. These problems most often stem from company leadership thinking of integration as an IT or data problem, when it’s really a problem of understanding the business. Successful integration requires looking at how businesses are aiming to engage the customer, using technology as a tool rather than the end goal.

Taking incremental steps to make the connected enterprise a reality: Companies planning on connecting their systems should start by working on a few distinct problems, prioritizing the most immediate needs and focusing on three key considerations:

–How can the business deliver value in three- to six-month increments to ensure consistent movement?

–What integration initiatives will drive the most value in the shortest time frame?

–Where can the business drive innovation?

With these three questions in mind, businesses can first prioritize and evaluate projects in shorter increments to ensure they reach their goals efficiently.

Prioritizing customer data: Businesses should always focus on the end goal, which for integration projects means giving customer-facing departments like marketing, sales and service better and faster access to customer data. They must prioritize what data to integrate based on which data will have the biggest impact on driving loyalty and engagement. By looking at integration through that lens, companies can focus on integrating the customer data to drive the bottom line, without overdoing it and distracting users with an overabundance of information.

Embracing Innovation: Lastly, the best business leaders ask themselves: How can I embrace the need for innovation and scale? This ensures the business elevates operations from tactical to strategic, incorporating much-needed innovation into the framework of the project.