Today, companies need to deliver services quickly to avoid disruption and keep up with the rapid pace of change. This is leading many of them to adopt cloud-based technologies. Typically, this leads to a multi-cloud or hybrid approach, and by 2021, Gartner anticipates over 75 percent of organizations steering onto this course. But to successfully use cloud-based technology, integration strategy needs to come to the forefront of all discussions.
For organizations overwhelmed by the array of integration options, from platform software to proprietary vendor tools and custom code, developing an integration strategy will help focus efforts and narrow down integration tool choices. Here are ways to make sure you're setting up your organization for success.
1. Identify the Initiatives for Integration
The business initiatives are the transportation method you'll use to reach business goals, and your integration strategy is a roadmap. Business goals are at the top, such as improving customer retention by 10 percent, or reducing the manual processes used in accounting to close out periods faster.
Initiatives may be less noticeable. For example, reducing manual processes may require moving from a legacy financial system to a lighter weight cloud solution. Improving agility and responsiveness may involve modernizing legacy systems or moving to the cloud. Or improving customer retention could be fueled by synchronizing customer data between a variety of systems.
2. Form an Integration Strategy Team
Having the right people behind an integration strategy can mean the difference between a patchwork mess of custom code and a connected set of applications that exceed expectations. Bringing together a team that includes enterprise architects, integration specialists, line of business users, application development teams, and executives can help companies identify integration needs, define goals, and identify the tools to drive the strategy forward.
The integration strategy team ultimately will be responsible for delivering the hybrid integration platform, including designing it. This is a collection of applications, data, and integrations that bring together decentralized cloud technologies and connect them to on-premise and legacy technology.
3. Collect Requirements from Different Domains
The individual leaders in the organization will need to help define the requirements for integration throughout the organization. Ideally the process of gathering and bringing together these requirements is led by an Enterprise Architect and/or Integration Architect. These requirements will include functions like integrating specific applications, as well as items like security and compliance, delivery models, and the technologies to use.
Leveraging these requirements, these architects can better align the integration strategy with the business strategy. For example, suppose one of the functional requirements is to connect the cloud-based CRM system to another cloud-based marketing application. In that case, it ideally will align with a business goal like improving customer retention by 10 percent.
4. Carefully Examine Gaps in Existing Integration Capabilities
Organizations may be at different levels in their integration journeys. Some rely on case-by-case, ad hoc methods, while others have embedded integration into their culture's very fabric. The challenge is identifying where you are and where you need to be. Here are a few sample questions to ask when evaluating potential integration gaps:
- Is there a formal methodology for integration?
- What tools are being used, if any?
- Who is responsible for integration?
- Is integration a recognized competency in the organization?
- Can the organization's hybrid integration platform support various disciplines, deployment models, endpoints, and constituencies?
If the answer to these questions is "no," or you have difficulty finding the answers, these become some of the gaps that need to be addressed as part of the integration strategy. For example, as you assess gaps, you may discover that applications don't communicate in real-time, hindering effective decision-making.
We often start with questions like these when helping companies develop an integration strategy through our integration assessments. And we guide them through the process of defining and building best-in-class integration capabilities with our Integration Architecture Framework. Using this Framework helps to ensure they have the capabilities they need to succeed with their initiatives now and agility to adapt to rapidly-changing needs.
5. Choose Technology Last
Technology is essential, but it can't be the first thing you choose when developing an integration strategy. As the integration team identifies needs and assesses gaps, it will develop recommendations for technology, like API Management solutions or microservices. Only then will evaluating vendors make sense.
One of the goals when selecting technology should be to simplify the number of integration tools being used, eliminating redundancies and silos where possible. In an ideal world, you might select one tool for all integrations—but this may not work for every scenario. Data consistency, full lifecycle API Management, messaging, multi-step process integration, and composite services may require different capabilities. However, there are multiple categories of integration tools, some of which work better for one type of scenario over another.
As complex as this all sounds, it doesn't have to be. Improving your integration strategy can be done effectively, allowing your organization to connect multiple applications seamlessly regardless of platform or deployment model. When you get it right, the IT team will spend less time integrating technology and more time focusing on higher-value activities. Business users will improve productivity and realize their goals.
We’ve helped companies develop and optimize their integration strategies for years, and we’re happy to help. View this video to learn how our Integration Architecture Framework accelerates this process.
About the Author
Lori Angalich is the VP of Marketing at Lightwell. She enjoys exploring new technologies and business models, learning how things work, solving problems, and developing new ideas with others. She has a Bachelor of Science and an MBA in Marketing, and she enjoys applying her knowledge from both each and every day. Lori has a passion for travel, art, wine, music, wildlife (including her two dogs, who are a bit on the "wild side"), and most of all, creating great memories with her family.