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What’s so important about software integration?

March 14, 2018

There is a constant stream of articles in the technical media about software integration – general application integration, integration of cloud apps, ERP integration, or a combination of them. Why does this issue keep getting raised? Because it’s increasingly becoming a challenge for organizations as they transition their operations to more modern, cloud-based solutions, or as they add new applications to their current IT portfolio. Whether you’re a CIO, business analyst, or developer, how should you address the integration challenge?

 

 

 

How integration started

Software integration has been a concern for several decades. It was first encountered in the 1980s and early 1990s. In those days, when batch processing was still the way many systems worked, common methods of integration were file transfers and remote procedure calls.

In the 1990s two different integration trends began emerging. One was the development of point-to-point and message queueing integration which supported more real-time needs. The other was software applications that combined many functions together and removed the issue of integration completely – this was the emergence of tightly integrated applications and the ERP industry.

By 2000, a new integration technology was introduced, the enterprise service bus (ESB). ESBs provided a centralized topology and offered more tools to manage integrations, and they could deal with early Internet-oriented integration protocols like SOAP. Also in 2000, a company called Salesforce was starting that only provided its software via the cloud and licensed it on a subscription basis.

As the Internet grew, cloud- and web-based applications became more mainstream, and the development of APIs arose as the solution to the integration challenge. The advantage of APIs is that they enable more loosely-coupled applications to work together, this in turn has created the opportunity for businesses to adopt more specialized applications and cloud-based systems.

 

If your business is like most companies worldwide, you are dealing with various issues around your enterprise applications.

  • Internal users have found cloud-based applications which allow them to work the way they want to, perhaps despite having a module that already exists in an existing on-premise system.
  • The organization has identified that it needs specialized applications to handle new production equipment, new customer requirements, new business processes – many of which didn’t exist a few years ago and are not executed well by your ERP.
  • Your ERP system, which costs so much time and money each year to maintain and upgrade, is going to be “ring fenced” just for its back-office functionality, and other solutions are going to be implemented.
  • The business needs to be transformed, so you are going to use the lower costs, better functional fit and greater process flexibility of cloud applications integrated with on-premises applications, what Gartner refers to as ‘postmodern ERP.’

 

The integration options

How are you going to integrate these different systems?

  1. Build your own integrations, but this gets expensive and difficult to manage as integrations increase.
  2. Use an ESB: the problem with ESBs is that they are legacy systems, enforce a tight integration of applications, and are not always scalable.
  3. Use the integration functionality of your ERP provider: that will constrain you to that vendor’s integration technology, will limit your integrations to what the vendor supports, and re-entrenches your business with that vendor.
  4. Review and update your integration strategy and implement a modern cloud-based integration infrastructure that can efficiently and quickly handle the needs of combinations of on-premise, cloud, and mobile integrations.

 

integration-projects

Integration strategy

How to select projects that will deliver value is a tricky decision. One approach is to consider each project against the intersection of complexity vs. business value. Additional criteria would be:

  • will the project be funded by another business unit;
  • does the project deliver functionality in the cloud, mobile, or big data area?

 

Integration checklist

As you embark on an integration project, here are the key questions and actions to review.

  • What’s your list of integrations, then how are you going to prioritize them?
  • What integration architecture will you support, for example see our mobile app development post
  • How will you manage integration projects?
  • What are your metrics for integration success – speed of deployment, cost?
  • Where are you going to prioritize development between legacy and new apps?
  • Develop integration plans for each application being moved to cloud, as well as those staying on-premise
  • Will you need a staff training program?
  • What security controls will you use?
  • Who will you use to ensure semantic matching between systems?

 

At the Gartner AADI (Application Architecture, Development and Integration) Summit, one of the key messages was how are enterprises going to transition towards an integrated, digital business? Whether you follow their idea of a bimodal strategy (ie, an approach that balances traditional and emerging technologies), or implement your own, you should consider what integration technology solution to use.

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