Application Integration

Solving the enterprise application integration dilemma by combining deep integration with process automation

The Integration Dilemma

In today’s highly competitive business arena, companies endeavor to create value by operating more efficiently at a lower cost across all departments. In other words, they are forced to do more in a shorter time with less cost. The rapid advances in information technology have provided invaluable tools to businesses for achieving this goal. This is why every business and organization is finding itself adding more and more diverse and increasingly complex software applications to its IT system. In larger enterprises, hundreds of applications are currently being used and the number is increasing.

However, these companies and organizations quickly realize that adding these software systems into their processes could be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they automate processes and relieve staff from many repetitive and time-consuming tasks to concentrate on more qualitative work, therefore lowering costs and creating more value. On the other hand, using different software for various tasks across the organization brings more complexity, requires additional staff training, and therefore increases the operating cost. So, what's the solution to this dilemma?


Alternative Solutions

In short, the solution is to design and implement an application integration infrastructure consisting of a set of middleware technologies that provide the interoperability services necessary for establishing communication between the applications used in the organization. Such a solution opens up previously siloed data stores and applications so that data and functionality can both be accessed across organizational boundaries. This becomes the foundation of the automation of tasks and processes in the organization.

Generally speaking, there are three available ways of implementing an application integration solution:

  1. Software platforms that provide the facility to add modules to the core software according to a company's requirements, each module performing a specialized task that resolves the needs of a section, department or division of the company. These software platforms act as a hub for all added apps, eliminating the need for implementing a separate integration infrastructure to some extent. Salesforce is a prime example of such a software platform. Its AppExchange portal contains over 2,700 applications, most of which are built with native tools and are therefore  automatically integrated with the core Salesforce software;
  2. Off-the-shelf integration software that comes with connectors for major enterprise applications and is capable of integrating those applications used in a company. This type of software provides dashboards and wizards to ease the tasks of designing and managing integrations for IT administrators and eliminates the need for acquiring extensive software architecture knowledge by IT staff or for hiring consultants for small integration projects. Most of these software integration applications are subscription-based and cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 in monthly rates. Companies that use off-the-shelf integration tools are capable of documenting their processes and designing the integration paths in-house;
  3. Custom integration architecture design and implementation. Companies capable of doing this type of work have the expertise and experience to discover and identify key processes in a company and design integration paths based on proven patterns that match those processes. After the discovery and design stages, implementation begins followed by extensive testing. Finally, the system is deployed into the daily workings of the company. Training the IT staff to monitor and perform basic administrative maintenance is an essential part of the project.


Architecting for Business Value

It is essential to realize that an application integration project is not purely a technical undertaking; it should be treated as a business strategy in itself with the goal of creating business value. This is the reason why the challenges of integrating technology infrastructures with business processes are daunting for many organizations. To overcome these challenges, it is necessary to outline the business value that such an integration project is to achieve before selecting and implementing an integration solution.

In order to create business value, the vision and objectives of a project must be properly aligned with the organization’s broader vision, and a business model should be built around that vision. Therefore, it is necessary for business managers, in collaboration with system architects, to create a clear integration business strategy, and to communicate this strategy to executive-level decision makers, as well as those who will implement the technical side of the strategy.

In practice, business managers must clearly communicate the key business goals of an integration project to the integration architects. Architects, meanwhile, must maintain a clear focus on these goals throughout the project life cycle.

In short, an integration architect must understand a company’s business goals and internal processes before selecting a solution, or a combination of solutions and develop an implementation plan.


Addressing Security Concerns

CIOs in all sectors can testify that cybersecurity is at the top of their concerns (reference). A cyber attack can have a devastating impact on a company. This is true for organizations and public agencies companies, and commercial entities. Therefore, in every IT project, the security dimension must be given careful and serious considerations.

When integrating different applications in a company, we are opening up the security and privacy walls of those applications for communication among themselves, and providing access for services outside the boundaries of the company’s network to the data within those applications. This by itself increases the potential for security breaches. On the other hand, a well-designed integration infrastructure can enhance system security by limiting unauthorized access.

In order to achieve a higher level of security, every application integration project must include a security plan. In such a plan, identifying what systems are being exposed and what parties or services are accessing the data in those systems is essential in selecting the security measures for this purpose. Some of these measures are, among other things:

  • Two-level, policy-based authentication

  • Granular access controls

  • OAuth-based Single Sign-On

  • Compliance with data encryption standards such as FIPS 140-2

  • Advanced activity monitoring

  • Using an API management system

  • Using private APIs instead of open APIs where ever possible


Cetrix’s Hybrid Integration Solution

Depending on the size of the company, the number, and complexity of applications, the IT infrastructure, the level of sensitivity of the data to be shared, and the types of users and services accessing the data, Cetrix designs a custom application integration infrastructure for its customers. In such a design, we start from the simplest and most efficient elements, such as using proven APIs from application vendors to the more complex Enterprise Service Bus architecture. In many cases, we develop a hybrid architecture, using off-the-shelf connectors and combining them with custom-developed APIs into a cohesive, automated and flexible infrastructure.

In projects that use Salesforce as the CRM platform, as much as the legacy system allows, we place Salesforce at the center and design the integration platform around it, using its proven security and extensibility to build a secure, scalable integration infrastructure. One common example is integrating Salesforce with HubSpot, LinkedIn, MS Outlook, Gmail, and even with back-office applications such as QuickBooks.

In larger projects where several enterprise applications are involved, if the legacy system does not have an ESB or other EAI platform in place, we will design and implement one with efficiency, performance, and ease- of- use in mind.


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