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What CIOs should look for in an application integration platform

August 30, 2017

These days many businesses are waking up to the issue of digital transformation and the impact on the systems that an organization needs to survive. Digital transformation isn’t about automating processes or digitizing assets, but as one article says, it is:

“how technology changes the conditions under which business is done, in ways that change the expectations of customers, partners, and employees”

For CIOs and IT managers, digital transformation means overseeing the implementation of a whole range of new systems. With each new system comes new integration challenges, so it’s no wonder that IT executives start reviewing application integration options. But what are the issues that CIOs and IT managers should be considering when they evaluate integration solutions?


Why integrate?

Modern business system are no longer monolithic applications but rather are combinations of components and connections. New applications are springing up to address different business needs, but usually integration with other systems is not a priority. However, users often want the systems integrated. Without any adequate integration solution, these disparate systems end up costing time and money, and reduce efficiency.

As the world gets more digital, organizations will increasingly interact not just with other software but also with people, intelligent devices, and ever larger volumes of data. By providing integration and connectivity, CIOs and IT managers can enhance the value and usefulness of these data assets.

In response to these trends, Gartner issued a Call to Action:

“Integration has always been important, but in modern times it has become more critical than ever”

What to look for in an integration solution?

When you investigate integration solutions you need to be sure that the software you select can handle the growing variety of applications and assets. Here are the areas you should be evaluating.


1. Use cases

Without even getting to digital transformation issues, here are some common use cases that require integration.

  • E-commerce: businesses of all sizes are making use of e-commerce sites like WooCommerce and Shopify to make sales online, and then need to integrate that information with their accounting systems.
  • Order portals: similar to e-commerce by allowing orders to be placed online, but these are usually custom-built for specific industry requirements.
  • Customer order processing / EDI: a growing number of businesses are finding that their customers require order processing and invoicing to be done electronically via an EDI-like system.
  • Supply chain tracking: related to EDI, these are systems that track progress of orders, shipments and deliveries.


2. Systems

Integration used to be just an on-premise issue, but now there is the cloud. These two systems have different requirements and an application integration solution should be able to accommodate both, namely:

  • Lightweight messaging and document standards (e.g., REST, JSON) that are used by cloud apps
  • Older messaging and document standards (e.g., FTP, PDF) that on-premise software use


3. Hybrid cloud support

As organizations add cloud apps to existing on-premise infrastructure, whether public or private cloud apps, an integration solution must be able to easily address this hybrid environment.


4. Handle complexity

Most businesses don’t have simple IT environments, so an integration application must be able to support complex IT systems and architecture. However, for the growing cloud application base, an integration solution should provide the flexibility and real-time support that many applications need.


5. Scalability

When you start an integration project you don’t know how it will ultimately grow and into what areas of the business, therefore the integration software needs to be dynamically and easily scalable so that the system can handle a growing amount of work in a capable, automatic way. Legacy systems like ESBs are not easy to scale on-premise and even harder for the cloud.


6. Extra-enterprise capability

The integration software must also be able to extend beyond the enterprise, to integrate third party systems, customer and supplier solutions, and applications that come with mergers and acquisitions.


7. API integration

A growing trend is the use of APIs for application integration. A good integration solution should allow you to build, maintain and manage APIs in the same environment that you do other integration work.


8. Mobile Backend-as-a-Service

Mobile access and applications are becoming a required function in many businesses. The question is how to integrate backend data with mobile apps and how to scale those mobile apps. An integration solution that supports backend-as-a-service addresses those issues and will ensure data security and integrity.


9. Data integration

So far we’ve discussed application integration, but integrating data across multiple platforms is also an important factor in many business strategies. Business users are increasingly involved in data integration projects, so an integration systems must support creation of data libraries and data views so that users can quickly connect to data in an easy, self-service way.


10. Data governance

Rigorous data governance is becoming a legislated requirement in many countries, consequently an integration solution needs to include the ability to manage the consistent and proper handling of data across the enterprise. In addition, it is important that integration activity is recorded, not only for accountability, but also to be able to diagnose failure causes. Other features like field masking allows sensitive information such as passwords and credit card numbers to be excluded from logging.


11. IoT Integration

Although there has been a lot of hype about the Internet of Things (IoT), in the next 5-10 years it will probably be a major new integration issue. While you might not need IoT integration right now, how you integrate IoT data with other systems will be important in the future. An integration solution will need to be part of a distributed IoT solution architecture that will most likely be the implementation approach.


12. Build own integrations

Whatever integration application you select, there will come a time when some software you want to integrate is not available in the application. That’s when the ability to build your own integrations is needed. Whether you code in C# or Java, the integration application should provide a framework for you to build and publish your own integrations.


13. Security

Security in an integration solution covers several areas. These include:

  • security of data transferred between applications, both on-premise and cloud
  • access control to manage who can perform what actions on an integration, e.g., build, test, run
  • protection over access and use of API endpoints


14. Support collaborative activities between IT and users

Not all integrations need to be performed by IT staff. The rise of citizen integrators, business users with some technical knowledge who can perform certain operations, means that the integration application should support collaboration between IT and citizen integrators in building and running integrations. This means that the integration application can implement flexible, lightweight, and real-time integrations.


15. Monitoring and management

As integrations grow, you will need a system that can monitor and manage all deployed integration processes, with notifications for successful and failed processes. Other integration management capabilities include user access and ensuring different business units can be isolated if needed.


16. Licensing

In the days of legacy on-premise applications, software was licensed on an annual cycle based on a metric like CPU or number of users – this is outdated. The new model for software licensing is to allow businesses the flexibility to dynamically scale their integration application usage when and how they need it – a ‘pay for what you use’ approach. This usage model is a fairer way to license software as organizations can start on a small budget as they explore integration opportunities and ROI can be achieved quicker; once that initial investment is proved it is easier to justify other integration projects.


Regulated industries

In regulated industries (e.g., financial services) there are additional considerations that needed to included in an integration application selection. A major concern is often the ability to show compliance with standards like ISO and SOC2 for information security? Other compliance criteria may include:

  • confidentiality
  • change management
  • auditing and logging

A cloud platform can address these issues in two ways:

  1. A public cloud provider with verified compliance
  2. Private cloud under the organization’s own control – this solution is commonly adopted

How an iPaaS helps digital transformation

An integration Platform-as-a-Service (IPaaS) solution is essentially the data plumbing for the enterprise, It can simplify the delivery of complex and costly integration across and between organizations, whether systems are on-premises or in the cloud. An iPaaS enables an enterprise to move, extend or upgrade its current IT platforms in order to take advantage of new digital capabilities. Integration ensures that new digital capabilities can be incorporated into an organization while still maintaining any legacy environments.

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