Bridging the communication gap between different IT systems within an organisation can turn it into a well-oiled machine. In other words, enterprise integration does wonders for any business operating to satisfy its own goals. This is especially true now, since an overwhelming number of companies have turned to digitising their processes regardless of their size, domain, or age. To aid this process, specialists in the field devise an integration strategy before embarking on the complex path to digital transformation. This article delves into some of the integration strategy characteristics that lead to great results.
What is an integration strategy?
While the term ‘integration strategy’ is often used to describe the strategies used by companies undertaking mergers and acquisitions activities, it may also refer to the task of enterprise systems integration. In the latter case, an integration strategy (or digital integration strategy) is a comprehensive plan for any digital integration initiative within a company.
Factors affecting an integration strategy
An integration strategy must take into account:
- The key business processes of a company. These include the operational, management, and support processes.
- The functional areas and teams within an organisation that need to coordinate business processes. These include sales, marketing, accounting, human resources, supply chain management, customer service, and so on.
- The technological landscape of the organisation. This includes all the applications, APIs, data-handling methods, and infrastructure (on-prem or cloud) that the organisation currently relies on.
This ensures that an integration strategy is more than just a blueprint that helps bring together disparate technologies within an organisation. In certain cases, it may also involve adding software to the current technology stack of the organisation, or replacing existing solutions with more effective ones. However, in most cases, an integration strategy has to account for more than just the selection of technology. It lays the groundwork for the simplification and streamlining of many business processes, managing and developing new and existing capabilities within the organisation. This can only be done when the integration strategy is tailored to the environment of implementation (the company that requires integration).
Elements of an integration strategy
An integration strategy can be broken down into smaller strategic areas. These comprise the elements of the integration strategy:
Application integration strategy
A company can have many applications across a diverse set of functional areas, including but not limited to finance, CRM, ERP, and supply chain management systems. An enterprise application integration (EAI) strategy works to group technologies and services so that they can transfer important information between themselves. Connecting these systems together facilitates business workflows and increases the company’s income.
There are three main types of application integration:
- On-premises: When a company chooses to host its applications on-site, a solution such as the ESB could be a part of your EAI strategy.
- SaaS-based: The majority of companies utilise SaaS applications to some extent in their daily operations. To remove application and data silos, they must be properly integrated into the enterprise architecture. Although expensive, an iPaaS platform could be an effective strategy in this scenario.
- Application-to-application: In cases where firms seek visibility to all their core business processes—including everything from suppliers, financial partners, logistics companies, customers—application-to-application integrations are the right answer. To achieve this, companies must establish ecosystem integrations that empower communication between multi-enterprise applications. This gives the company greater control over their workflows as they can collect data beyond their organisational boundaries.
Data integration strategy
As a concept, data integration helps business intelligence (BI) processes that utilise present and past data to guide business-level decision-making. Strategies related to this type of integration strengthen the integrity and accessibility of data.
They address issues such as:
- Data access speeds: A good data integration strategy attempts to accelerate the time it takes for an organisation to derive up-to-date data.
- Interoperability between different sources of data, distributed geographically and infrastructurally: Data may be located all over the globe. In addition to this, data is hosted on cloud-based and on-premises infrastructures and stored in different types of data repositories (data warehouses, data marts, data lakes, and so on). A data integration strategy must combine these miscellaneous sources such that they have a common access point.
- Curtailing costs: An integration strategy must analyse if data integrations will create savings and reduced expenses. This can be achieved through data automation.
- Connectivity between departments: Figuring out which teams and applications benefit the most from data interchange can help define the practicable integration patterns for that use case.
- Adherence to data security and governance principles: A good data integration and governance strategy must establish the processes that a company should follow to access and use data safely. For instance, in the healthcare industry, information that should only reach medical professionals should be appropriately treated as confidential.
Cloud integration strategy
This component of the overall integration strategy deals with the following elements:
- Partner and Security Gateways
- SaaS Applications
- On-premises Applications
A few things to keep in mind for a successful cloud integration strategy are:
- Approaching it in a document-based fashion while involving the expertise of cloud service providers as well as the support professionals for the traditional on-premises services housed by the company.
- Converting data to on-premise systems while being connected to web-based APIs adds unnecessary complexities to the integration structure, making it feel laborious to leverage.
- The utility of APIs can shift over time since not all of them are the same. Thus, future upgrades and periodic maintenance is something to consider while planning integrations.
Security integration strategy
Security might take a backseat as rapid transformations take place within an organisation. The business side of the company undergoes digital transformation; simultaneously, the technology side of the company undergoes a cloud transformation. Despite this turbulence, the company must strive to maintain balance within the security side of the business. Two basic steps that could help establish this balance are as follows:
- Identify the silos within the organisation and connect them by marking shared outcomes and processes.
- Identify the appropriate level of security that the organisation needs. This keeps the security department from overpowering business workflows. At the same time, it ensures that the department isn’t completely ineffectual either.
The purpose of a security strategy in an integrated organisation is to:
- Control proactively and respond to new and previously encountered threats.
- Collect new insights that could help improve the security infrastructure of the organisation.
- Analyse the contributing factors at the core of a particular attack to enhance the security team’s preventative measures.
- Implement lessons learned from insights and analytics into the technical ecosystem while keeping the business processes in mind.
What characteristics should an effective integration strategy possess?
Although every integration strategy is uniquely modelled for the organisation that needs it, their effectiveness can be boiled down to some common factors. For an enterprise integration strategy to be successful, it should normally possess these four characteristics:
Guarantees seamless integration across a heterogeneous IT landscape
A good integration strategy will enable hybrid integrations of both SaaS and on-premises software. This makes sure that all technologies—whether they are related or unrelated to one another—exchange data between themselves effortlessly.
Exposes application functionality through the implementation of APIs
Leveraging API management exposes users to the services of an application. In this way, a company can exploit their application suite and other IT assets to their maximum potential. Furthermore, APIs remove the responsibility of application developers to thoroughly understand the other systems they are interfacing with.
Simplifies technological processes by opting for modernised integration methodologies
Depending on the use case, using newer variants of traditional integration technologies—for instance, microservices instead of older monolithic approaches—could ease digital processes for businesses and their stakeholders. Similarly, a successful integration strategy should consider the possibility of deploying enterprise integration methodologies like file transfer, gateways, message queues, and ESBs through agile and automated practices to diminish technological burdens.
Secures access to data and applications
Implementing approaches such as encrypted gateways to protect entry to certain API interfaces.This means that only authorised personnel can utilise specific digital services linked to the company. Additionally, systems, databases, applications, and APIs that engage with or pass sensitive data between themselves through integrated pipelines must follow appropriate data compliance regulations.
This article highlights some key pointers on crafting a productive integration strategy that is sure to result in commercial gains for the company. Likening the characteristics listed above to a fundamental set of integration goals, each enterprise can frame a bespoke integration strategy that rises above the technology selection phase.
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