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Why application integration is the connective tissue of any modern enterprise

July 20, 2023
Rachel Richardson

Head of Product Marketing, Infrastructure & Apigee

Matt A.V. Chaban

Senior Editor, Transform

As digital operations grow more complex, ensuring ongoing connections between data and apps is more important than ever.

The human nervous system can transmit signals from some neurons at speeds of up to 268 miles per hour. The nervous system collects and processes sensory information about your internal and external environment and then makes a decision based on that input to trigger the appropriate response from your body.

Integration at its finest. 

Integrating business applications and systems is not so different at its core. Like the human body, modern application integration needs to evolve in reaction to changes in highly complex environments. You have to be able to collect and coordinate signals from a huge variety of different input sources; process and interpret them; and react to them quickly to support faster decision-making and enhanced experiences for customers and workers.

If data is the lifeblood of digital transformation, integration is the connective tissue that combines it and ensures it can flow through your organization and reach the people and destinations where it will deliver the most value. Crucially, integration is where raw data becomes useful data.

Application integration is the process of enabling independent applications that are designed for their own specific purpose to work with one another. It’s a tricky challenge, and while everyone wants to solve it, application integration remains one of the top barriers to digital transformation success

The number of software applications that organizations now use is astounding. A recent report from Accenture puts the average number of different applications used by large businesses today at 500, noting that 8 out of 10 plan to acquire more from multiple vendors. While other reports offer more moderate estimates, anyone paying attention can see that the number of applications is on the rise, regardless of the size or industry of a company.

Organizations have understood the value of integration for some time, but considerations like inertia or expense held them back, according to Amit Zavery, vice president and head of platform at Google Cloud. No longer.

“Integration is not a new challenge, but it’s getting more complicated and more critical,” Zavery said in San interview with Transform. “If you don’t bring all of this information together in a manageable and scalable way, it becomes very difficult.”

More is not necessarily better. An overabundance of applications without integration can lead to siloed data and a lack of interoperability, hindering process automation and creating the need for manual workarounds or duplicate tasks. Without the ability to connect all your different apps, you’ll be compounding the inefficiency even when implementing the latest technologies and solutions. 

“It’s an important problem to solve — for every company we speak to nowadays,” Zavery said. “Everything we’re doing in our world depends on data, which in turn depends on the fact that a lot of applications are integrated, so that customers can get visibility across all those various information sources.” 

Whether you’re running cloud-first applications, operating in a hybrid environment, or taking on AI and ML, all require some form of integration. And with the recent explosion of interest in generative AI and AI platforms, specifically their potential to accelerate software innovation and reduce operational drudgery, the need for specialized app integration solutions has also escalated. These problems are not only getting bigger and more difficult to unravel, they are becoming mission-critical as data and applications proliferate across organizations. 

Now more than ever, leaders will need to make integration decisions that give their organizations more freedom to change in the future without worrying about it impacting innovation or the ability to grow. 

Breaking down the problem of today’s integration

Integrating applications is a perpetual challenge for enterprises in every industry, whether you’re a retailer looking to build a digital channel from your brick-and-mortar stores, a financial services company trying to get a 360-degree view of a customer, or a healthcare provider trying to connect payers, patients, and providers. 

In addition to changing technologies, the reasons why enterprises rely on application integration are constantly shifting in response to new requirements, from ensuring data synchronization and connectivity to enabling more real-time interactions. Today, the focus is shifting once again as companies seek to use integration technologies to automate repetitive tasks so employees have more time to focus on critical work that brings value. Many integration solutions have come and gone over the years, and current approaches are already starting to lose their efficacy. 

A few reasons for this disconnect include:

  • It’s hard to keep track of everything. Without a centralized way to manage all your integrations, it’s easy to forget what integrations exist and how they work. 
  • Even if you can track it, there’s no standardization. There are no universally accepted standards for application integration. This problem is exacerbated when apps are built and maintained by different teams, especially if integrations require specific coding knowledge. 
  • Different applications require different types of connections. Every industry has its own distinct set of needs, dependent business processes, and unique data formats. It’s incredibly challenging to understand what’s needed to connect applications and how they support different business functions and flows. 
  • Integration projects are costly. They not only demand an incredible amount of time, and often depend on specialized skill sets, not to mention the costs involved in the initial setup, customization, and ongoing maintenance. 

Siloed integration efforts and point-to-point integrations that rely on complex coding to connect applications and data still work, but they don’t scale well. In most cases, these specialized solutions are tied to specific pieces of a workflow or business process. When something changes, the integration breaks or worse, becomes obsolete, which kicks off a new cycle to find a solution. 

One of the things Zavery said gets mentioned frequently during customer conversations is the need for more flexibility.

“Change is unavoidable. Processes change over time and new software is introduced,” he said. “You might want to replace integrations that no longer make sense for your organization anymore, but you don’t want to be too tightly tied to it.”

Connecting the dots — no matter how many — between data and applications across your enterprise is increasingly important to success in the digital age.

For instance, imagine an integration between two legacy tools. Between them they have a million or more lines of code. The integration logic to integrate these tools becomes cumbersome and expensive very quickly.

Organizations that continue to approach integration in this way will end up with unsustainable costs, overextending their available resources and impede innovation. Teams simply can’t build integrations fast enough to match the growing number of applications — let alone keep up as requirements shift.

Integration is your organization’s connective tissue 

Organizations shouldn’t have to cobble together multiple applications from different vendors all by themselves. For it to be most effective, integration needs to be embedded into an organization’s whole ecosystem.

Today, that means integrating through the cloud. 

“Integration should not be a separate thing you have to learn, manage, and maintain over time, and then replace over time if it doesn’t meet your needs,” Zavery said. 

As cloud adoption accelerates, there are now new opportunities to tap into cloud-based tools and services to create more resilience and flexibility. APIs have emerged as a core component of modernizing applications and abstracting out different systems. API-first strategies are helping to forge a path forward by connecting data and services and making them easy to access. 

“Customers are looking to solve integration a little more holistically and end-to-end," Zavery said. "Instead of getting four or even 15 different things and managing them as an IT project, it can be more like an app or as a Service, which brings a lot more clarity,” he explained. 

The more clearly you can see and connect your data, the more you can reduce the complexity across your organization. (Image: James Webb Telescope/NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Klaus Pontoppidan (STScI))

With a set of APIs, for example, you can now easily enable integration with other services or third-party applications. 

APIs act as a facade for the underlying backend services, simplifying the work needed for applications to communicate and share data and functionalities. In this way, the process can become configurable, modifiable, and evolve as your organization changes. You can replace a bespoke application with a package solution by modifying the API. Your integrations will continue to work as long as you can manage their respective APIs. 

But that’s not all. Using cloud platforms provides access to many other technologies and services that can be used to your advantage, allowing you to pick and choose the ones that best suit your needs. You benefit from rapid development tools like pre-built connectors, a single interface, and access to real-time monitoring. AI and ML are also making it easier to understand changes, predict patterns, and automate alerts for things happening in the overall system. 

Cloud-based integration also allows you to trigger tasks and actions automatically in other cloud services, making it easier to automate business processes.

Powering companies with integrated applications

It all comes down to helping organizations reduce the complexity of development so they can focus on their more valuable parts of their business. 

There will always be new requirements day in and day out, but if you get the right integration backbone in place, your organization will have more flexibility to adapt and grow faster without having to redo the work every time. 

Ultimately, integration in the future won’t be a project to complete; it will be a new flexible state to operate within and success will hinge on whether you have developed the capabilities needed to change. With the right technology and tools, you can transform integration from one-off projects that must be repeated and replaced into a flexible nervous system that can learn, adapt, and update. 

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