What's driving integration?
While mergers and acquisitions used to be the biggest drivers of enterprise integration, today it’s the move to cloud, rapid organisational growth and the need for real-time data.
Whatever the trigger, the ultimate goal of enterprise integration is simplification. But simplicity doesn’t mean it’s easy. Successful integration requires careful planning and skilled execution. So what are the key ways that you can keep everything on track?
1. It’s critical to define your business outcomes before beginning a major integration
We work with enterprise clients to analyse current systems and plan the route to a successful outcome. But your organisation will face greater challenges if you don’t have a clear picture of what you want to achieve from the integration. You need to know what success looks like for your organisation before you begin.
In business terms, the benefits of integration include greater agility, or reduced cost of ownership of a solution. Other success metrics might be linked to what you want to achieve in your business.
As an example, one of the benefits delivered through integration is that data is synchronised from one system to another. So, when a new customer signs up on your website, they also appear in your CRM, your finance system and in your warehousing system, and all of those are synchronised together. If your organisation formerly had a lot of manual data re-entry, with the risk of errors being introduced, having current data stored consistently across your organisation’s systems is a really important business outcome.
Real-time analytics are increasingly important, particularly for the retail and consumer goods industries. An integration platform handling all of the organisation’s data can enable a clearer view of everything that’s happening in your business right now and can facilitate better reporting. Many businesses use their data integration platforms to get as close to real-time as they can, and that’s really powerful.
Keeping the desired business outcomes firmly in mind when planning your integration will help your team to achieve them.
2. Dismantling and migrating core systems must be rigorously planned
Integration isn’t always about bringing things together. Sometimes it involves carefully dismantling core systems, to consolidate, simplify and re-integrate. This carries a lot of risk because whenever an organisation changes or retires mission-critical applications, the data that flows around all that needs to change. Some old platforms have hundreds of applications built on them. When it comes to retiring the platform, everything else that connects to it needs to be re-pointed and re-routed. A bank we work with has spent the past 15 years retiring one of its elderly core systems because so much is linked to it. In this scenario, working with software engineers who thoroughly understand the system and who can carefully plan how to close it down one chunk at a time, will help to keep things on track.
3. Organisational alignment aids successful integration
Most of the clients we help are larger enterprises with established IT departments. Successful integration involves getting systems to talk to a lot of other systems. This requires that the network is configured, firewalls are safely unblocked, and security is correctly set up, which demands a level of maturity from the customer organisation. Smaller companies can struggle with integration work because they don’t have the required technical knowledge in-house.
Conversely, some very large organisations with a fragmented IT resource can also face greater integration challenges. We can spot this red flag if we’re called in to do a straightforward piece of software engineering work and there are 14 different teams on the initial scoping call. When more than a dozen vendors are trying to solve the same problem, this organisational complexity will make it harder to gain the simplification that the technology integration is designed to achieve.
Similarly, when well-established companies have grown rapidly and put in multiple point-to-point integrations along the way, this can result in a really complicated mess. A good integration solution, in the hands of an experienced software engineering partner, will help your organisation to untangle the mess and simplify data, business processes and operations.
4. It’s crucial to have a well-designed contingency plan in place
A good software engineering consultancy will work with you to anticipate and plan for all the potential problems that could arise when the solution goes into production. Common considerations include security, how a particular function is going to be supported, how the solution will scale, and performance.
We’re used to dealing with huge volumes of data, so we’ll think about what needs to happen if a new ecommerce website is so successful that a million orders an hour are suddenly flooding into the integrated warehousing system. These are the sorts of considerations that may have been missed at the proof-of-concept stage if the sole goal was ‘Can we get it working?’ Successful integration results from knowing and planning for all of those eventualities and building systems that can still work reliably and be performant in the real world.
5. It pays to select technology that’s designed to support integration
We often help clients who are unsure about which integration technology is right for them. We will work with you to assess your business requirements and we’ll go through the pluses and minuses of each technology option.
While we work with all cloud platforms, we have found that Azure is the only cloud provider that has developed comprehensive services to support and simplify integration, which no other cloud platform provides. Some of these services, such as Azure API Management, are crucial for successful integrations, because APIs are such a huge part of how enterprises simplify the process of connecting software and services. Azure Functions allow APIs to be hosted in a very efficient way, so we can write little bits of logic that can be reused.
Another key part of integration is the way that messaging is managed. Azure provides several tools for different messaging scenarios, including:
- Azure Event Grid for really fast messaging
- Service Bus for when messaging needs to be bullet-proof.
Altogether, these services provide a comprehensive toolkit that we can use to solve clients’ integration problems.
6. Why it’s vital to build observability into your networks, applications and data repositories
Black box systems are no longer acceptable in today’s enterprises. Your organisation needs to know what’s happening within your networks, applications and data repositories. Creating dashboards and other visualisation tools allows enterprise systems to be more easily managed. It pays to work with software engineers who can enable your organisation to see what is happening all the time, so that if something breaks, logs and relevant data can be surfaced, to speed resolution.
7. Design for failure to make your integration bullet-proof
Integration involves connecting to multiple other systems, each of which could fail. Very often, 80% of a successful solution involves planning for what happens when things go wrong. Generally, we are dealing with a very complex set of failure modes. Success is built upon the way that software handles these failure modes.
It’s very easy to build something simple that chugs away and moves a file from A to B once a week. To make these functions bullet-proof, you need to work with a software engineering partner who will plan how to keep everything running even when things break.
As an example, if your business needs to send data into a CRM system and that system is down, we’ll write the code so that the system will wait and retry and retry and retry so that when the CRM system comes back up it will recover without anyone having to do anything. These types of details make the difference between a successful integration project and one that goes off the rails.
8. Work with a provider who thoroughly understands your chosen cloud stack
Many of the older integration technologies that were designed for on-premise, or co-located data centres, are less appropriate in the cloud world. This results in enterprise information being scattered between data centres, Azure, AWS, and other repositories. We’ve been doing this for two decades, so we’ve learned to spot the red flags that indicate that your integration risks being derailed
We excel at designing, building, modernising and supporting enterprise-grade applications and platforms for the cloud. We work with all cloud platforms, but Azure is our favourite. We’re familiar with the technical stack and how we build on it in terms of the messaging buses, API management, networks and security layers. Microsoft Azure provides us with the right toolkit to connect systems, applications, records and data repositories together. That means we can put our standard integration platform into your business within a matter of weeks. Then we’ll then write the integrations for you that run on it.
As a result of our experience integrating complex, business-critical systems, we’ve built up a tried and tested set of patterns and solutions that will resolve the common challenges. If we meet an integration challenge that we’ve resolved previously, we can rapidly roll out these template solutions for you.
345 Technology are the first choice for your enterprise integration project
We know how to manage enterprise integration really successfully, but our magic ingredient is our people and our approach. We set up 345 Technology to be different. Technical success is ensured by our software engineering skills and enterprise experience. We want our people to be truly proud of their work. Above and beyond that, we want our customers and our consultants to have a great experience working together.
Some software consultancies are technically competent, but the engagement is transactional and the client doesn’t really enjoy working with them. At 345 we’ll get the job done brilliantly and you’ll love us!