Integration and my parking door

| 3 min read

I've been looking to explain a bit what integration means for developers - the kind of answer I've to give following exchanges like this:

  • Those are separated systems
  • Let's make an integration between them!

Last week gave me a nice example - my parking door.

The Parking Door

I've recently moved to a new appartment in the middle of Brussels. Being a new building, it has a mandatory parking (public parking space is in short supply in Brussels) - but as the building are quite narrow, it was impossible to build a ramp.

Instead, we have a "car elevator" so that cars can enter the parking at street level, go down with the elevator and then park in the underground parking.

I actually don't own a car, but I'm using the parking for my e-bike, so I've been using it quite a lot.

Here is a little schema about how it works:

Car Elevator

The problem

So - this is a typical example of a clever solution to a set of constraints:

  • We have to have a parking
  • We don't have the space for the usual solution (the ramp)
  • We need this to not cost an arm and a leg

Now car elevators (at minimum small ones like this) are rather unusual - so we're a bit into new territory.

The good news is that the two main pieces exists:

  • Doors than can open and close with a remote control
  • Elevators able to manage "heavy" weights

The bad news is that we now have a system made of two independent pieces.

The specification

So there is a certain number of rules that the system need to respect:

  • The street door can only open if the elevator is a street level (don't want the car to run into a hole)
  • The parking door can only open if the elevator is at parking level
  • The elevator can only move if both doors are closed
  • No door can close if a car is below one
  • The elevator can't move if something is too close to either door

The problems

The first thing I learned when I arrived in the building was that "getting in and out the parking is not simple" - we also got a two pages guide about thow to manage that system.

Two weeks in, while the systems mostly seems to work, you see things getting weird once in a while:

  • The street door almost got on the car of a visitor
  • If one of the door does not close or open completely, the whole system become unresponsive - effecively blocking the elevator, possibly with the street door open.
  • When this happen, a combination of actions + waiting time generally ends up in the door closing, and the system resuming normal behavior
  • No one is clear on what that combination of actions is
  • The street door did fall on the car of another tenant

Now again - the providers for both the doors & the elevator looks like decent companies knowing what they do. Individually, they probably work.

What about integration

This simple example showcase a good set of elements to have in mind when talking about "integration":

  • Having two independant, working systems does not means the integration part will work as well (or at all)
  • Integration often "leaks" to the end user in the form of a set of disjointed interfaces resulting in a poor user experience
  • Having two systems "talk with each other" is not a given - especially if those systems have not be created with that purpose
  • The more complex the integration, the more source of bugs
  • Even if the integration "works" (achieve expected result) it will most probably be awkward to the user (the two remote controls - or in software, having to log separately in two systems)
  • Bugs are especially probably with complex interaction depending on the state of each sub-systems


This does not means we should never use any integration, more that it comes at a cost - in budget or frustration for the end user.

In several recent cases, proposing a single system (even with significantly less features than what the combined system could provide) was actually in the end a better solution.

As someone said recently "Integration are more like organ transplant than lego blocks" - so use it with care.

Opinions? Let me know on LinkedIn!