As the human capital technology landscape expands and solutions become more specialized, systems integration has become more critical than ever. Not only do we need to think about how each of these talent-focused platforms work together, but how they work together with other systems within and outside of the organization.

According to Brandon Hall Group’s latest Learning Technology survey, integration capabilities are one of the three most important criteria organizations have for their learning technology providers, with 46% saying it is essential and 30% saying it is critical that these services are available. In an environment where fewer than half (44%) of companies are looking to get a suite of integrated talent management modules, it is important organizations understand the ins and outs of integration.

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The challenge becomes, what systems should be integrated and when should that happen. While we might like to think it would be ideal for all the systems to work together, that is clearly not the reality. There are multiple technology- and process-related variables that make that scenario all but impossible for most organizations.

Quite often, in their zeal to create a completely interconnected technology infrastructure, organizations will create custom integrations to get systems to work together or talk to one another. While this may solve the immediate challenge, it nearly always leads to future problems.

As applications are updated and upgraded (all on their own individual timelines, mind you), customizations can often break, causing the integrations to fail. Sometimes it’s worse when they don’t break and simply malfunction. In this scenario, the failure is not readily apparent, but the applications are no longer behaving the way they used to.

Establish an LMS Integration Roadmap

The way to avoid a lot of this is to have a solid integration roadmap in place. Let’s look at this from the perspective of an LMS. The first step is to identify all of the systems – current and potential – that need to connect to the LMS. Our research found that some of the systems most commonly integrated with the LMS include the HRIS, content management systems, talent management platforms, and workforce management platforms.

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However, within any given organization, there could be dozens of systems that could potentially integrate: an ERP, CRM, finance, security/physical access, etc. Then there are the many ancillary learning technologies that could also be present: authoring tools, social/collaborative tools, simulations, content aggregators, etc.

The goal is to gain an understanding of each of the connections between the LMS and these other systems and identify a business value behind the connection. This will allow a company to prioritize which systems should be integrated first. Once these critical connections are tackled, the rest can be approached on a case by case basis, which also helps cut down on the perceived need for custom integrations.

Integrate Systems Using APIs

In today’s technology environment, the key to putting everything together is APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces. These are sets of definitions, protocols, and tools that allow communication between various software components.

An example is how Facebook allows you to see a thumbnail of a shared YouTube video as well as actually watch the video within your newsfeed. Any LMS platform worth having should have several that allow it to talk to almost any other system. These bits of code are the easiest way to avoid unnecessary IT involvement in custom integrations.

The overarching goal to an organization’s integration strategy should be to keep it simple. Focus on the critical integrations first. Go after the easy wins where a simple API will pull data from one system to another. The technology architecture of an organization is rarely a stationary thing. Too many complex integrations can bring evolution to a painful halt. It is critical that organizations look at integration through a forward-looking lens.

-David Wentworth, Principal Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

@DavidMWentworth

David Wentworth

David Wentworth has been a senior research analyst in the human capital field since 2005 and joined the Brandon Hall Group in 2013. He has authored reports and articles on various human capital subjects with an emphasis on workforce technology. He has contributed to several reports published by ASTD, including authoring Mobile Learning: Learning in the Palm of Your Hand, The Rise of Social Media: Enhancing Collaboration and Productivity Across Generations, and Instructional Systems Design Today and in the Future. His work has also appeared in Compensation & Benefits Review and T+D Magazine.

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