Systems Integration (Networking)

An integrator ties together disparate systems and applications so they work in a seamless fashion. This entails reconciling physical connections and overcoming problems related to incompatible protocols. The systems integrator uses its hardware and software expertise to customize the necessary interfaces. The objective is to provide compatibility and interoperability among different vendors’ products at a price the customer can afford.

The systems integrator not only provides the integration of various vendors’ hardware and software, it also can tie in additional features and services offered through the public switched network. To do this, the systems integrator draws upon its experience in information systems, telephony and data communications. Added value is provided through strong project management skills and accumulated experience with customer requirements in a variety of operating environments.

Integration Drivers

In highly competitive markets, companies constantly strive to add value. This often means partnering with other firms to address a broader range of customer needs. Other times, it means merging with or acquiring firms that offer complementary products or services. In either case, the number of new technologies that must be accommodated and the number of legacy systems that must communicate increases—both of which pose formidable technical and management challenges.

For example, the spiraling cost of health care delivery in the US. is driving the need to maximize use of advanced information systems and networking technologies to reduce overhead expenses and stay competitive. Rising health care costs have led to dramatic changes in the way health care is delivered, administered, and paid for. The growth of managed care has unleashed a wave of mergers and acquisitions, and introduced new players who bring with them new information systems and networks, which must be integrated with the existing infrastructure.

Systems integration brings together hardware, software, telecommunication services, and people to solve diverse business problems. It can include designing and implementing new applications, providing ongoing hardware platform support, enhancing and expanding networks, training users, and managing maintenance. The objective is to unify an organization’s activities, information technologies, and people to meet clinical and business goals.


A number of discrete services are typically provided by systems integration firms, including:

DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT Includes such activities as network design, facilities engineering, equipment installation and customization, and acceptance testing

CONSULTING Includes needs analysis, business planning, systems/network architecture, technology assessment, feasibility studies, RFP development, vendor evaluation and product selection, quality assurance, security auditing, disaster recovery planning, and project management

SYSTEMS IMPLEMENTATION Procurement, documentation, configuration management, contract management, and program management

SOLUTION INTEGRATION Staging, integrating, and testing the solution prior to actual deployment

CABLING AND MEDIA TESTING Covers all forms of transport media including wiring, cabling, fiber optic, and wireless

FACILITIES MANAGEMENT Operations, technical support, hot-line services, move and change management, and trouble ticket administration

NETWORK MANAGEMENT Network optimization, remote monitoring and diagnostics, network restoral, technician dispatch, and carrier and vendor relations

In the United States and Canada alone, about 6,000 companies claim to perform systems integration. Today’s systems integrators include firms such as Electronic Data Systems (EDS), which rose to prominence by servicing the data-center environment; computer system vendors that specialize in their own product lines; and value-added resellers (VARs) with roots in the UNIX or Windows environment. Carriers, both local exchange and interexchange, also provide systems integration services. Carriers are especially useful when the project involves computer telephony integration.

Of course, large companies often have the resources within their IT departments to handle systems integration internally. Sometimes a company’s IT staff may become expert in a particular kind of systems integration and be spun off as a separate profit center, offering their services to other companies.

Selection Criteria

When selecting a systems integrator, the candidates should be evaluated for competency in the following areas, as appropriate:

INTEGRATION COMPETENCY Large-scale systems integration services; project management for large or complex systems; strategic information technology planning and consulting; data conversion and technology migration; large database architecture, design, and operation; and data security, confidentiality, and privacy issues

ENTERPRISE COMPETENCY Strategic planning; organizational restructuring/alignment; process reengineering, CPI, and Total Quality Management; systems feasibility studies; systems adoption and transition; information management; and technology assessment and planning

PROJECT MANAGEMENT COMPETENCY Demonstrated leadership/organizational skills; flexible teaming arrangements, including subcontracting; proven methodologies with published project schedules and plans; ability to complete projects within budget and time constraints; procedures for cost control and conflict resolution; configuration management experience; ability to define common project processes; and experience with changing and evolving technologies

ARCHITECTURE COMPETENCY Open-systems and vendor-neutral approaches; pure integration focus, independent of hardware sales or transaction fee services; experience with and processes for trade studies and life cycles analysis, network topologies, and protocols design; and all phases of systems design including top requirements definition, baseline concept definition, systems specifications and documentation, testing (checkout and system verification), troubleshooting and problem resolution, and system turnover and training

DESIGN COMPETENCY Client/server-based systems of central and distributed databases; legacy data conversion; interprogram and intraprogram interface definition; procedures for security, access control, and data protection; e-mail implementation (data packaging and routing); EDI, electronic funds transfer and data transfer definitions; data exchange standards; and proven methodologies for testing and validation

COMMUNICATIONS COMPETENCY Connectivity/interfaces; telephony (microwaves, wires, fibers); wireless systems; switches and routers; facilities definition; multimedia technology; and videoconferencing

TECHNICAL COMPETENCY Data conversion tools; high-speed search and data extraction; authentication and fraud control solutions; biometric processing for identification and verification; Internet, intranet, and Web technologies; electronic document and workflow processing; automatic coding of medical documents; diagnostic image analysis and processing; distributed database solutions; telecommunications, networking and gateways; and repositories, data warehousing, and data marts

OPERATIONAL COMPETENCY Product improvement, update support, and version control; user support including user groups, bulletin boards, newsletters, and help desks; problem resolution; transaction processing as well as data repository/warehousing/data marts; network and security administration; and data security and integrity

Beyond all this, candidates should be able to show that their resources have been successfully deployed in previous projects of similar nature and scope to the one at hand.

Last Word

Today’s companies are looking to integrators for business solutions that improve their competitiveness in particular markets. While some companies have the resources to design and install complex systems and networks, others are turning to outside firms to handle the process. An alternative to the do-it-yourself approach or hiring a systems integrator is to share integration responsibilities with a contractor. This can save as much as 30 percent of integration costs. However, projects that are co-managed must be carefully defined, particularly the responsibilities of each party, so there are no gray areas regarding expectations and accountability.

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