The internet as we know it is rapidly changing how we do business. These changes have, to some extent, been occasioned by the ever-evolving consumer preferences.
And as consumer needs keep on shifting, businesses are also readjusting the way they approach customers, all in the name of remaining relevant and competitive.
Quality of service, convenience, increased productivity, efficiency, safety, and security are just some of the factors, or growth drivers if you will, that technology is trying to help businesses excel at.
And to make sure that businesses have access to the best and most cost-effective tools technology can offer, innovators are working round the clock to come up with cutting-edge digital solutions for the modern marketplace.
But while this is all good, business owners and executives are having a hard time deciding which tool(s) or solution(s) is best suited for their businesses.
You see, there’s no digital solution that is a one-size-fits-all.
Different tools will deliver results for a particular business or industry and not necessary for another. That’s just how these things work.
The secret is to make sure you know exactly what solution your business needs before buying one. Doing so will most certainly set you miles apart from those that jump this all-important step and go right in only to realize they made an epic mistake.
So, in this article, we shall look at some of the most common, high-impact, results-oriented digital solutions that we know your business needs to grow.
We are talking about iPaaS, app integration, and data integration.
What are they, and which one(s) do you need to grow your business?
So, let’s dig in, shall we?
1. What Is iPaaS?
iPaaS stands for “integration Platform as a Service.” They are typically platforms used for standardizing the integration of applications into a company – and in turn, simplifying the process of automating business processes and sharing data across various applications.
iPaaS makes the potential of platforms unlimited, and as companies become increasingly cloud reliant, iPaaS becomes essential to almost every business model.
A growing organization that succeeds in leveraging iPaaS technologies can get rid of manual processes, minimize reliance on email and spreadsheets, and at the same time, increase speed, accuracy, and visibility across all the departments.
A good number of companies operate on various systems, particularly between their marketing, financial, and departments. One of the best ways to improve communication between the various silos is by integrating software to ensure better data sharing within the firm.
The other good thing about the integration Platform as a Service is that businesses do not have to build out additional services while expanding their offerings. A simple solution that many businesses are adopting is integration with software that is already providing the service needed.
A unified, powerful and valuable solution.
Understanding the different iPaaS related terms
- Platform – a centralized element of all connections. Think of it as a hub with extensions that connect other solutions to its core.
- Integration platform – a “stage” that builds a connection between varying systems and applications. An integration platform provides the right environment for engineers to do what they do best.
- Platform as a Service – PaaS describes a platform where a provider accommodates all the components that users need to adopt given software. Such components include servers, memory, database, operating system, and the network.
- Software – not a new term. It is a program designed to carry out specific sets of tasks for the users.
The History of iPaaS
iPaaS has been around since 2008 when organizations started ditching on-premise solutions and embraced the cloud.
Before the discovery of iPaaS, companies relied upon electronic data interchanges (EDIs). EDIs usually perform automated data transfer either via value-added networks of standard formatting – a hosted intermediary amongst companies whose processes are the same.
iPaaS was born out of a need to manage cloud integrations since the earlier integration systems such as ESBs (enterprise service buses) were only designed to manage on-premise integrations.
Since it was discovered, iPaaS has gone through major improvements. For instance, it can handle integrations not only within the cloud but also between cloud and on-premises software – an advancement that saw the invention of the term hybrid integration platform. Hybrid iPaaS solutions are at times referred to as EiPaaS where E stands for “enterprise.”
In the beginning, iPaaS solutions were positioned for handling data integration for SMBs that had little knowledge and experience in the area. Multi-tenancy architecture dominated at the time since small and medium businesses prioritized the cost element (affordability).
The situation has changed a lot today with the Internet of Things and the increasing popularity of mobile apps driving the demand for iPaaS.
The two phenomena are characterized by an ever-growing trend in the data touch-points, and increasing data flows complexity. The uptick in the sophistication of data flows demands the availability of more effective and efficient integrations.
The automation of data integration using iPaaS offers a lot of benefits. If you are looking for a way to quickly enhance the quality of your company’s data integration, iPaaS fits the bill perfectly.
For starters, iPaaS allows huge reuse of data and higher consistency of data across the firm – almost effortlessly because the service provider handles all the tasks related to deployment, configuration, and optimization.
As a result, you won’t have to worry about the management and maintenance of the software. The vendor will deliver a fully managed solution with guaranteed system updates in the cloud capable of addressing the wide array of use cases as well as the multiple integration paradigms in support of hybrid cases.
Other benefits of iPaaS include:
- The fact that your IT staff doesn’t have to keep switching between systems to locate the information they need leads to increased efficiency and productivity.
- You will finally achieve cost efficiency because an iPaaS solution eliminates the need to hire expensive developers to write code for tailored integrations.
- Nothing is as good as finding a highly scalable solution and that’s what iPaaS offers. Your company can always expand without worrying about the process and costs of setting up additional on-premise integration. As a result, your business can always grow to meet consumers’ demands.
- As long as you opt for the best iPaaS solution in the market, you are guaranteed ease of use. Your company won’t have to worry about a supposed lengthy and involving process, or the need to create a robust project team to get the integration running.
- Say goodbye to the boring decision-making procedures within your company. iPaaS makes it easier for you and your teams. Integration Platform as a Service converges data entry and business intelligence. As a result, businesses can track their operations data in real-time, and in turn, making accurate judgments. Another beautiful thing about iPaaS that makes decision making easier and faster is that data exists in the cloud. This means that you can access it from any location using multiple devices.
2. App Integration
The majority of people would want to own one application through which they can accomplish all their tasks. However, such a need is nearly impossible. Thankfully, the world is full of critical thinkers, developers, and entrepreneurs that are passionate about the creation of specialized applications that assist with particular roles and needs within organizations.
Therefore, instead of depending on a single application, we unconsciously end up working with many applications. If you look at it critically, you will realize that we don’t have much of choice.
On the other hand, while the numerous applications we adopt help us to finish multiple tasks, the management of these applications, including all the data they accommodate, can be quite challenging.
That’s where application integration comes into play. App integration assists in maintaining, managing, and keeping all the applications your company uses updated and at the same time, eliminating duplication and redundancy of data.
Having an app integration network in place that permits proper and secure communication between and among applications, a company achieves efficiency and effectiveness in its business and work processes.
Furthermore, app integration helps to keep information silos related issues in check.
So what exactly is application integration?
Application integration refers to the process of enabling distinct apps to work together. For this to happen, the following capabilities are required:
- Ensuring that separate data copies (in the different applications) are consistent.
- Ensuring the orchestration of the integrated flow of the numerous activities handled by the independently-designed applications.
- Ensuring access to data as well as the functionality of the disparate applications via a one-user interface/application service.
Why should your businesses consider App Integration?
You never know your business needs app integration until you have to move data from one application to the other. One might argue that the task is pretty much straightforward and that integration isn’t really necessary until there is a need to transfer data in a scheduled, continuous manner.
The urgency of a one-off transfer of data from a legacy system to a completely new thing will also make you appreciate app integration. This, therefore, means that app integration simplifies life for you, and other users.
Once you invest in application integration, you only get to enter data once and then connect it to many applications. This alleviates the need to enter the same data as many times as the number of applications you have.
As long as the application you enter data is connected with the rest, the data will automatically be distributed to other applications. Besides saving time and other company resources, this method of data entry minimizes manual interventions and human error. It also delivers the much-needed consistency across all your platforms.
Application integration gives rise to a comprehensive system that builds a bridge between diverse applications. As such, the issue of whether your apps were originally designed to work together will not bother you.
App integration also gives you the freedom and flexibility of choice as far as selecting applications is concerned. Your business isn’t only restricted to applications that are within an assembly of technology. A comprehensive system also means that you can use the services of several vendors as opposed to sticking to just one.
In Cleo’s 2019 State of Ecosystem and Application Integration Report, poor integration costs business more than half a million dollars every year. While this might not seem like a lot of money, it is, however, money that could have been put into good use.
The report also showed that IT decision-makers were still struggling to find effective ways to attract new customers, how to automate data flow between internal and partner applications, integrating legacy systems and SaaS applications without disruption and modernize the overall .integration processes.
App Integration best practices
- Having a realistic plan
A realistic plan doesn’t just happen. It requires the ability to make special considerations. An acceptable level of ambiguity is okay lest you become a victim of analysis paralysis. Understand and accept that you won’t know all the answers and at times, you won’t recognize the questions.
View your plan as a starting point that is bound to change as you progress. Having a realistic plan in place means, including contingencies for the questions you aren’t aware of and allocating resources for rework.
A simple, yet effective way of establishing scope is to come up with a simple diagram with descriptive text, bullet points, and assumptions. This approach will help you come up with a scope baseline that a broad audience can easily understand. Set scope boundaries to facilitate an easy decision-making process.
The two most important boundaries are costs and schedules. It is also important to determine the source of truth while ensuring loyalty to the system’s purpose. These tools will help you to not only test but also enforce the set boundaries.
- Cost and schedule
A company must determine the best budget for the deployment of application integration. Failure to do so might mean eating into the overall company budget, which can be detrimental to the operational efficiencies.
A lower budget than is necessary could mean a few things going wrong during the adoption of app integration. Pay attention to the elements that require financing such as labor, which is a highly significant cost.
While the process of defining a realistic schedule can appear difficult, it is nevertheless possible. While allocating money to the various deliverables, assign timelines as well. You will find simple tools such as resource allocation spreadsheet useful. Such tools are helpful as far as informing the team members about priorities and expectations.
From the viewpoint of scheduling, app integration projects can appear very inefficient. To overcome this challenge, consider using a bottom-up scheduling strategy. Determine all the needed deliverables and then generate detailed steps for achieving them.
- Testing and continuous improvement
You cannot skip testing. It is the only way you will know if a system is working as expected. Testing is a critical component of guaranteeing quality deliverables. Other factors that contribute to the designing of high-quality software include practices and processes capable of incorporating clear expectations, consistency and a balanced approach. Organizations must also encourage open and clear communications to ensure successful app integration.
Understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to application integration and as difficult as app integration appears, know that it is doable. A lot of companies have adopted it and are doing just fine. You just have to identify a reliable provider who will help you choose the best integration for your business and then follow best practices for application integration.
Today, organizations produce robust volumes of data in their day to day operations. Besides the firm’s financial transactions, research & development and production activities, some of this data is generated by the sales and marketing as well as customer service functions of the organization.
Every source of data contributes to the large pool of data that companies have to handle. When taken holistically, this data can be analyzed to help unleash strategically pertinent information.
The big question is how best can business intelligence analysis be performed effectively on data originating from multiple sources and locations? Remember that each of these data comes with a distinct formatting standard.
If you are currently dealing with such a problem, then you need to think in the line of data integration.
What Is Data Integration?
Data integration entails the combining of data from various sources to create one unified view. The first process in data integration is ingestion.
Other steps that go into data integration include cleansing, ETL (extract, transform, and load) mapping, as well as transformation. Ultimately, data integration enables analytics tools to generate useful and actionable business intelligence.
There isn’t a single correct way of approaching data integration. However, a few common aspects exist amongst data integration solutions such as a master server, data sources, and clients who obviously have access to the data via the master server.
In a typical setting, the user must submit a request to the master server to be able to access data. Once the master server receives the request, it ingests the data needed from both internal and external sources. Data extraction takes place from the sources, after which it is combined into one cohesive data view. The data set is then sent back to the user.
How To Create A Data Integration Strategy – And The Key Elements
Many organizations are taking data integration seriously, and for them, it is a major concern. It, therefore, explains why the need to create a data integration strategy is essential to the success of their digital transformation journey.
Being data-driven is one of the top priorities of the majority of organizations who don’t wish to be left behind as far as ensuring a complete digital transformation is concerned.
So, how does a data integration strategy look like? What are the primary factors that a company needs to consider?
The key elements of a data integration strategy include:
Ask yourself who within the company will participate in data integration. Is it IT specialists packed with programming knowledge?
Do you want to empower knowledge workers to utilize data integration tools independently?
The responses to these questions will greatly determine the data integration solution you purchase.
What data does your company have that might require integration? Try revisiting the company’s data inventory if you have it in place to determine the number of applications and data formats in your organization. What you discover should again help you to determine the most appropriate data integration solution.
When do you intend to pursue data integration? It all depends on whether you are currently building a warehouse or data lake (the storage of data in its raw and unchanged form awaiting processing).
If it is the former, data integration should happen before any analytics. If you are in the process of creating a data lake, it means that data integration will take place after any analytics. Note that your choice of architecture will impact the firm’s data integration policy and the type of technology needed.
Where do you intend to perform your data integration?
Will it be cloud-based or on-premise?
Another important question: where is your data? Is it in the cloud, on-premise, or do you store in both locations? If both, which solution best meets the company’s needs?
Is it wise to choose either cloud-based or on-premise, or does the best data integration strategy call for a hybrid approach?
Think about all these aspects carefully before making the final decision.
Why are you thinking about adopting data integration?
Don’t do it because everyone appears to be doing it. Instead, establish your business reasons for investing in data integration.
Doing so will help you come up with a suitable strategy. Having a sufficient understanding of your business case will go a long way in helping you project if a given solution is capable of delivering a positive return on investment.
The question of how is where the rubber meets the road. It is a complex question that you must answer before proceeding with data integration.
Answering the “how” question entails identifying the policies and procedures, and the tools that you will deploy in data integration. Other important elements that this question must cater to include data governance, quality, and security.
Data governance encompasses the people, processes, and technologies for managing and protecting the data assets of a company. It aims at guaranteeing a generally complete, accurate, trustworthy, discoverable and understandable corporate data.
At the heart of data governance lies the need to establish methods. It is about creating an organization where responsibilities and processes are clearly defined to ensure standardization, integration, protection, and storage of corporate data.
While data quality appears to intertwine with data governance, experts argue that they are usually referring to slightly different elements. Data quality can be viewed as the extent to which data is consistent, accurate, timely and relevant for current utilization, and is compliant with the business rules.
This means that good data governance (with respect to knowing the origin of your data) is critical to ensuring good data quality. However, data governance doesn’t solely guarantee data quality.
So, whichever digital ecosystem you finally choose for your business, always make sure you fully understand what it is and which one you need. If you are having trouble understanding all the techy stuff that goes with it and you also not quite sure which one is best suited for your business, get an expert to help you.