Implementation vs Integration, is there really a difference

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I am often asked whether there is a difference between Implementation and Integration.  This question, at least in my experience often comes after conversations with new customers about our (BLU’s) approach to delivering projects.   I have two (2) answers; my brief answer is “Yes there most certainly is”.  This is often followed by a more in-depth conversation; which leads me to my second answer.  “To me and by extension us at BLU Networks; Implementation is more of an Activity and Integration is more of an Approach” Let me dive deeper……..

Wikipedia defines Implementation as the process of putting a decision or plan into effect / execution.

Google defines Integration as the process of integrating – to combine (one thing) with another so that they become a whole.  Google also sites synonyms like combination, amalgamation, unification, consolidation, merger and many more.

It’s clear even after looking at the definitions that there is a difference between the two.  It’s amazing what this difference translates into when approaching the delivery of a solution to a customer.  Our experience has shown us that it is critical to understand this difference and more importantly how to apply that understanding to company operations as it relates to our role as a Technology Focused company.  Some may argue that it’s not really that important, the customer is really concerned with getting what they paid for; which is really the implementation of the requested technology. Some may even go as far as to say, “The customer does not know the difference so why bother”.  These statements can be no further from the truth.  As a matter of fact, we argue that in today’s competitive landscape, not understanding the difference between these two worlds can directly affect the success of your business within the Telecommunications and any other similar spaces.

Implementation vs IntegrationNow Let’s Bring It Home…… As a Telecommunications Integrator, our core business is the design and deployment of Technology Solutions. At BLU we see Implementation and Integration as two distinctly different scenarios. To us Implementation is the activity of deploying a telecoms platform or associated technology. This is really focused on getting the technology into the business and operational. We see Integration as the activity of deploying a telecoms platform but there is a distinct focus on ensuring that all new and existing technologies are fully functional together. Though Integration includes the implementation of devices / technologies; it’s not always the other way around. Implementation does not necessarily include integration. Confused Yet? I know it may be a bit of a stretch to conceptualise but read on…

Let’s Look At a retail Organisation…… Picture a retail organisation that supports a thousand (1000) customers across five (5) Branches. Recently the company engaged five (5) vendors to design and deploy a fully functional solution that enabled their customers to shop online. This solution was critical in the execution of their company strategy of reducing operational costs by twenty percent (20%). In summary the RFP process took three (3) months and a vendor was selected. The solution was implemented in two (2) months and the customer has had no end to issues after they began using the system. The major issues were as follows:

  • Inaccurate Stock On-hand Figures – further investigation revealed that the solution provider had issues connecting the Ecommerce front to the inventory backend. The Solutions Provider advised that the technology used in the backend solution is too old and though functional it is not efficient and there may be issues from time to time.
  • Performance Complaints – customers complained that accessing the stock items at various branches was a slow process which they eventually abort and move onto another website where they get better performance.

As far as the customer was concerned, the solution was not implemented properly, and the issues being experienced was a direct result of the inability of the Solutions Provider to deliver on the required objective.  On the other hand, the Solutions Provider is stating that the integration of the backend technology was the customer’s responsibility and it was not considered as part of the scope of their engagement.  The fact remains that we can have conversations about who was at fault until the cow comes home.  Whether it was a misunderstanding of the responsibilities, scope or a lack of expertise; this was an example of a solution delivered using the Implementation Focused Approach.  The focus here was clearly on the delivery of the Ecommerce Solution and it did not take into consideration the integration of all the necessary components.  Had this project been delivered by a true Integrator, the chances of success would have been greater, and the risk of similar occurrences would have been very low. The potential risk of this situation occurring would have been considered even at the stage where the solution was being conceptualized.

The difference in approach is real guys…. Implementation is NOT Integration

Benefits of Integration Approach

Benefits of Taking the Integration Approach

There are many advantages of adapting the Integration Approach. It is often the more resource intensive and requires more thought but reaps rewards in the long run. Let’s look at a few of the benefits:

  • Forces In-depth Understanding of Customer’s Environment – you are required to dig deep and ensure that there is proper understanding of the customer environment.  This includes the proposed and existing technologies.  You may even find yourself considering risk factors for example:
    • Was the most appropriate solution selected – there may have been may options for solutions that would deliver the intended result. Having understood the customer environment, is this the most appropriate one?
    • Ability for the proposed solution to integrate – are there any issues integrating with the existing applications systems in the customer environment?
    • Is the proposed technology appropriate – this may seem like an obvious consideration, but our experience has shown us that it is often overlooked.
  • This approach maximises the chances of delivering on the customers’ expectations for a fully functional solution.
  • The integration approach has a different goal in mind. The goal of implementation is deployment whereas the goal of integration is full business functionality.
  • The integration approach requires an in-depth knowledge of not just the new technologies but whatever technologies are being used in the environment. This creates a higher skill requirement for the integrator, and the customer benefits from this increased skill requirement.
  • The integration approach can be argued as the approach that is more focused on the success of the business rather than the deployment of the technology.
Implementation vs Implementation

Issues withs theImplementation Focused Approach

From the example with the Retail Chain, the Implementation Focused approach was not the most appropriate. Let’s look at some of the disadvantages:

  • There is often a focus on only delivering the technology required rather than looking at all the factors.  This was clear in the example with the Retail Chain.  The legacy technology, though not a directly connected piece of the solution, is a critical requirement for the success.
  • There is normally no focus on any other technologies / systems within the customers environment.  Many organisations that have been in operations for years have systems / solution already in place for various aspects of their business.  It is necessary to consider these solutions and whether there are any risks associated.
  • All other technologies within the customer environment, though there is a need to operate with the newly deployed technology, this responsibility is often passed to the customer.
  • Though the proposed solution will be implemented, the overall functionality to the organisation may not be accomplished.

The table below identified four (4) key differences between the Implementation Focused and Integration Focused Approach

Implementation Focus

  • Equipment Deployment
  • Equipment Functionality
  • Knowledge of Equipment
  • More of a Technician Role

Integration Focus

  • Solution Deployment
  • Organisational Functionality
  • Knowledge of Customer Environment
  • More of a Consultant Role

In closing, I would like to mention that to-date we are still challenged that there is no difference between the two approaches. We agree to disagree on this and continue to push forward being 100% Integration focused in everything that we do. Give us a call on 1 868 223-1576 for your next Telecom related project. We have more on this topic coming up in our next webinar which is entitled “ Implementation vs Integration – What is the Right Approach” . For more information on the solutions that we offer check us out at www.bluneworks-tt.com

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Lyndon Brathwaite

    This is like music to my ears Sheldon as I’ve had instances in the past while selling managed print solutions where customers just wanted the solution/copier delivered and was never really concerned with how it integrated with the other aspects of their business.

    Or other vendors just focused on the sales and just implemented costing the customer time and money in the long run. I can go on and on, but another reason I really like this article because even in what I do now as a sales enablement agency, I experience customers looking for returns and they do not always have the right resources.

    Great read!! – Lyndon

    1. Sheldon

      Thanks for the feedback Lyndon, this topic is really dear to me. I have seen soo much customer dissatisfaction that was related to using the wrong approach. I firmly believe that there is only one way to do it and its the right way. The Implementation focused approach, to me is one that is synonymous with only delivering what the provider sees as the scope and not really fully taking the customer and all their variables into consideration.

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