What do we mean by technology integration?
Technology integration is when two or more software systems or applications can be connected so that data from one system can be accessed by the other system. In social care, I tend to think of technology integration as having 2 distinct strands:
- Integration of technologies owned and used inside one organisation e.g. a payroll system integrating with a rostering system; or
- Integration of technologies owned and used by separate organisations e.g. hospital discharge information being sent electronically to a care home or home care agency.
For the purposes of this article, I am just considering the implications to be aware of in the first strand.
Why should my organisation think about technology integration?
When your organisation starts considering your digital strategy, one of the first things to decide is whether you are looking for one software company which can do everything – from care planning, to rotas, to maintenance management etc. – or, if it would be better to purchase technologies from different companies to perform different functions.
There are pros and cons to both options and the decision should be made based on what makes the most sense for your organisation.
If your organisation decides to purchase software from one company to do one thing, and to purchase a different kind of technology from another company now or in the future, then it is important to think about integration before making any purchasing decisions.
The reason for this is that by considering integration at the outset of planning your digital strategy, you are setting yourself up for success and future proofing your decision-making. For example, you don’t want to implement payroll software and then 2 years down the line decide to start using a rostering solution only to find out that rota data won’t feed through to your payroll system. This will mean your staff will have to manually enter the data into both rota and payroll and remember log-ins for 2 systems. This can cause confusion, frustration and encourage people to revert to old ways of working so you might not get any benefits from introducing the new system.
What questions should I be asking companies about integration?
When you are researching software companies, you should always ask them what their policy is for integrating with other platforms. Many companies will already partner with other companies working in the social care sector and will tell you who their partners are. This information can help you to build a software package from different suppliers who are used to people using their software in parallel.
The social care technology market is incredibly vibrant and innovative and there are new technologies coming to market all the time. For example, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are both developing areas in social care technology. This is good news for the sector as it allows for choice and innovation, but it can make it hard to plan for your organisation to plan a long term digital strategy. To help mitigate this, you should speak to software suppliers about their policy for integrating with new companies in the future or companies that they don’t have existing partnerships with. This should not only be a conversation about their willingness to do so, but should also cover whether development costs will fall on you as a customer or if that’s included in their standard pricing.
For an example of a social care organisation who uses one company to perform multiple functions see this video on Elizabeth Finn Homes.
For an example of a social care organisation which uses integrated technology from multiple companies see this video on Johnnie Johnson Housing.