What is application integration?
Application integration is the process of making your applications communicate with each other by exchanging data and invoking services that they offer. Application integration is fundamental to your digital transformation strategy because when your applications are integrated and communicating with one another, your business can operate in new and innovative ways.
In a traditional business setting, applications live in ‘silos’, meaning that they operate independently of each other within separate business units or functions, and don’t share the data they use. This creates a problem because oftentimes, these applications are used to execute a business process, or to help you better understand how your business is performing. In these cases, humans have to manually make disconnected applications work together by moving data between them, which takes a lot of time and is very error-prone.
But when your applications are integrated, the barriers between them are removed so that they can work together seamlessly—without requiring manual intervention. Your business processes execute faster, and with fewer errors. You can combine the services provided across many different applications to create a more accurate and up-to-date view of your business. You can put the capabilities of your business in the palms of your customers’ hands, by offering them game-changing experiences that engage with them in new and unique ways. And your business can react with agility to ever-changing market demands.
State-of-the-art technologies for integration include an API-led approach combined with Event-driven architectures. You can integrate your applications regardless of where you deploy them. Application integration can occur between any combination of on-premises applications, cloud applications, edge devices, and online web services. Application integration can be done by anyone who has an integration need, not just someone in an IT department, using integration tools that are designed for different skill sets. With more and more SaaS applications being used by businesses, the need for application integration increases, and most IT departments aren’t able to keep up with the demand - thus role and skill-based solutions help accelerate integrations everywhere.
How can application integration help your business?
Application integration provides a number of benefits to your business:
Application integration makes your business more responsive to opportunities
Integrating your applications automates your business processes, which frees your employees’ time, allowing them to focus on adding value to other parts of your business. People don’t have to copy and paste data between applications, which is a huge time saver. Key processes that can be automated include ordering and fulfillment, invoicing, collections, expenses, approvals, and more. An API-led and Event-driven approach to application integration allows your digital landscape to be connected and reconnected quickly without the need for special skills - helping increase both business efficiency and flexibility.
Application integration creates more engaging user experiences
Application integration allows you to put the power of your business into the hands of your customers. With an API-led and Event-driven approach to application integration, you can easily connect systems across your enterprise that have traditionally been unconnected. This allows you to integrate many different applications within a unified, highly productive digital experience for your customers - which will increase customer loyalty and allow you to easily deliver new types of service.
Application integration allows you to easily transition to new technologies
As a digital business, you want to continuously exploit new technologies, such as microservices, to increase your agility and speed. You also want to look beyond the cloud for deployment, as well as edge devices. With API-led integration and Event-driven architectures, you can embrace new technologies more easily while transitioning your digital business over time.
Application integration makes your people more productive
The unrestricted nature of integrated platforms across your business organization makes it easier for all of your users, inside and outside of your organization, to access the necessary data without requiring technology specific skills of the underlying hosting platforms. Further, applications are more easily accessible regardless of where they are deployed: on-premises, in the cloud, or at the edge (IoT).
Approaches to application integration
With more applications around, usually from different vendors, the need for integration has never been greater. New integration approaches have emerged, and today they coexist with other integration forms that have been around for years.
Point-to-point application integration
These are customized integrations between specific applications. You create each connection to solve a particular business problem. As the number of applications requiring integration increases, however, the number of point-to-point connections required becomes very difficult to manage and maintain. Also, as you move your applications to the cloud, SaaS companies publish updates two or three times per year. This forces your IT organization into an endless cycle of regression testing and fixing things that break.
Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) / Enterprise Service Bus (ESB)
EAI uses a hub-and-spoke approach in place of many point-to-point integrations. The integration application serves as the hub with spokes connecting to the other applications. EAI allows your IT organization to automate business processes through near real-time communication between applications. Today the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) is the most common solution for EAI, that routes messages between producer and consumer applications. This approach works well for integrating on-premises applications in large companies. However, it does not easily connect those applications to cloud and edge devices.
An integration platform-as-a-service, or iPaaS, is a cloud-based service that integrates your data, applications, and processes. iPaaS automates and simplifies integration activities, making it easy to connect applications and data deployed in any environment. With the explosion of available SaaS applications, the need for easier, more-self-service ways to connect and manage all the data from them has grown. With iPaaS, you can build and deploy integrations in the cloud between your cloud and on-premises applications and data using an API-led and Event-driven approach—without having to install or manage any middleware or hardware.
iPaaS can be used in different scenarios where you need to connect, migrate, or replicate data between applications across your company. It offers a fast, easy, and flexible way to connect your applications and data. And you don’t have to be a programmer to use it.
Choosing the right application integration tool
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing an application integration tool for your enterprise.
Find a solution that will accommodate a variety of integration skills
Find an application integration solution that will empower a wide variety of roles within your business, because everyone in a digital business has integration needs. A good tool will have interfaces tailored to different user skill levels.
Find a solution that connects to a wide variety of endpoints
A good application integration solution will have a large number of connectors to popular applications and platforms. If the connectors included, your employees won’t waste time trying to write low-level connectivity code.
Find a solution that offers a high degree of flexibility and choice
There are a wide variety of modern technologies available for integrating across hybrid environments that include on-premise, cloud, SaaS, serverless, and edge devices. Your requirements will lead you to the integration technologies right for your business. For example, container and serverless technologies speed the deployment and scalability of applications in cloud environments, as well as to edge devices, yet there are a wide array of container management and serverless implementations available from vendors. You will want to ensure then that your integration solution supports the widest array of integration, devOps, and deployment technologies to support your unique requirements.
Find a solution that integrates beyond the cloud
You should seek an application integration tool that accommodates applications beyond those deployed in the cloud (and on-premises). Enterprises are increasingly moving to the edge, so a solution that includes the Internet of Things (IoT) and instrumented devices will ensure you have all your bases covered.