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You need a new integration architecture to be a digital business

Businesses are poised on the brink of massive changes as the digital and physical worlds combine. Whether you use the term ‘digital business‘ (Gartner), ‘third platform‘ (Forrester), or ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution‘ (WEF) , there is a growing consensus that major technological disruptions are about to hit many organizations. In order to be ready for this disruptive wave, a recent report by PwC noted that businesses need to start by looking at the integration of their disparate systems.

The changing application approach

As we’ve noted before, the strategy of having everything inside a consolidated application environment, like an ERP system, is getting too complex, too costly, and too restrictive to sustain . Increasingly we are seeing customers deploying industry-specific solutions or best-of-breed cloud applications, and then integrating them with a back-end system, usually a financial system or ERP only as a system of record. This approach provides a quicker, cheaper and more flexible alternative to trying to force-fit everything into the ERP system.

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The new integration challenge

When organizations integrated systems in the past they would either write their own code, or use the ERP system’s integration product. This was manageable in an environment where change was slower, or where there were a small number of integrations. However, neither of these conditions apply these days. Firstly, hand-coding integrations with multiple systems leads to ‘integration spaghetti’, and secondly the ability of ERP systems to integrate with other software is not keeping up with market needs, as shown by 54% of ERP users being dissatisfied with their ERP’s integration capabilities .

Other changes that enterprise are going to see are:

The question CEOs and CIOs should be asking, as PwC notes, is how are they going to integrate all these different systems, while becoming more flexible and responsive? A new approach to integration is required.

The new approach to designing IT architecture

Organizations are going to see a growing focus on cloud instead of centralized on-premise systems. There will still be on-premise issues but increasingly these will be part of a ‘cloud-like’ or hybrid infrastructure. IT departments will need to respond faster to business users’ requests, but it’s unlikely they will be able to do everything themselves, and so they will have to rely on tech-savvy business users to do some work.

New integration architecture

For the new architecture to work successfully, a different approach to integration architecture must be adopted.

integration architecture

New integration architecture

  • With the growth of mobile and other Internet services, information exchange will require asynchronous communications which can handle intermittent (non-persistent) connections. This rules out traditional ESB technologies.
  • Integrations tools must be able to orchestrate of a broad range of integration processes
  • Implement an infrastructure that will enable business to do their own integrations
  • Focus on providing API-based interfaces to back-end systems so that you don’t have to create custom code or modify legacy systems.
  • Adopt an integration lifecycle approach that recognizes integration workflows may start as user-created ad hoc activities, but may need to be migrated to a more formal structure as usage grows. Formal integrations may also be adapted and become informal workflows for a while.

The PwC report notes that business and technology executives need to adopt a new mindset to take advantage of the emergence of new technologies. While doing so they will need to re-examine their existing IT architecture, and how they will integrate the new systems that emerging technologies will introduce. Using traditional integration approaches and tools will limit their ability to respond effectively to the changes that will come with digital business.

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