Here's a little-recognized fact about data integration: if you run a business or any sizable chunk of one, someone is integrating your data.

In my professional life I have, on occasion, suggested data integration efforts. Sometimes my suggestions have been accepted and sometimes not. As an IT professional I understand that different managers have different priorities, and in a given business situation sometimes other things may be more important than, for example, having a single, consistent source for all customer records, or making sure production data matches financial data.

But as a customer? That's different.

A couple of years ago I bought a laptop from a company renowned for quality and customer service. For the first weeks the computer was all it was cracked up to be, but then it cracked up. The screen developed a mysterious flicker. After a few diagnostic conversations they replaced the main logic board. The problem recurred a few months later, and this time the company traded the lemon for a new computer.

All was well, but here we encounter the first data integration problem: they said I needed to call a different number to have my three-year service agreement transferred, which I did.

Months later I called service for a minor problem, and they had no record of the service agreement for the computer – my warranty was still connected to the lemon. After about an hour on the phone this company's outstanding support staff came up with a more than satisfactory solution.

Even so, this company's service records weren't integrated with its warranty records. In this case data integration happened because of my insistence and the service staff's creativity. The cost? Only considering my last encounter, three service professionals were tied up for about an hour, and I'll think twice before I buy again from this company. Of course, that cost is multiplied by the number of customers who have this kind of experience.

It seems the choice is either pay now to integrate so all applications work from consistent data or pay later by having staff, customers, and suppliers do it on a case-by-case basis.