Avoiding inertia with integration - more than just putting tech together

The final piece in our series of five articles looking at the influence technology is having on moving businesses forward, examines the permeating presence of micro services and how integration has become a prerequisite for any technology project.

The number of platforms and tools available to businesses means the need to get software communicating and integrated is much more than just plugging it in.

How ‘integrated’ a company is has also become a catch-all descriptor for where a business is on its digital transformation journey. 

It is not straightforward and this report from McKinsey shows why the journey to an integrated model is not easy or quick. However, there are four areas of consideration which can help to make things more manageable.

1. Making a start

Where do you move to when you’re too big to move?

“When you have something that’s well established, it becomes even harder to try to implement change,” says Apadmi’s Chief Technology Officer Gary Butcher. “The inertia can be huge and the ship isn’t turning easily. Knowing where to start is a challenge.

“An organisation like the NHS is a good example, and I’m sure our client wouldn’t mind us saying that. The reality is there’s a lot of legacy technology and you have to be really clear about what needs to be done and how you’re going to deliver it with minimal impact.

“Finding out what problem you’re solving inevitably involves being part of a bigger piece of digital transformation and that means being a good citizen and augmenting something that’s already there, however big or small.

“You have to do the necessary due diligence at the start, asking the right questions, being disciplined about your discovery session and ensuring you can add your digital product to the existing business without disturbing existing workflows.” 

2. Monolithic applications

What about monoliths in a microservices world?

The name alone suggests a large, unwieldy approach being used by big organisations, but the reality is monolithic architecture still has a place. If you’re running to a tight deadline, with minimal budget and an engineering team of developers fluent in a specific framework, then it can make sense.

“The reality is no two scenarios are the same and the approach you take has to reflect that,” continues Butcher. “You might be glueing systems together - facilitating different workflows in your business across sales, marketing and development, on numerous projects - or you could be trying to standardise how people work.

“As part of the work we do with Domino’s UK & Ireland, we’re providing support to ensure existing internal systems continue to provide the right data to the mobile app we’ve created.

“That means embedded developers working with the client on a more modern API shim to keep the service operational and moving forward. The integral nature of that system means any changes can only be made having thoroughly checked the validity of the work.”

3. Middleware

Not just a middle man.

Middlemen can have a bad rep, maligned as the person in between two key parties without any real ongoing role. But as this Forbes article suggests, the importance of bringing people together and keeping them there should not be underestimated. The same can be said of middleware.

“Bringing together sub-systems within a business is a key part of what we do,” explains Butcher. “And you have to do it brilliantly to make sure everything works. 

“We had a project for a Financial Services client which involved moving an existing ticketing system to make it work with a new application. It was old in technology terms, but getting that part right was fundamental to how they operate. Similarly, if you are going to make improvements to how Salesforce integrates with other tools in your business, you have to be sure it’s still going to alert you the second a new business enquiry lands.

“Middleware allows you to create a loose coupling between a new product and your existing technical estate. The benefits to your incumbent IT teams are that you can control traffic volume to downstream services, increase security by avoiding direct access and bring new tooling into the mix - without rearchitecting established systems. 

“Often Middleware empowers businesses to keep up with demand, by introducing new products in a controlled, timely way.”

4. iPaaS

Everything as a Service

“There’s much talk of Integration Platforms as a Service (IPaaS), which isn’t surprising given the proliferation of SaaS platforms and event-based tools available to help systems talk to each other. 

“You just have to look at the case studies from services like Workato, MuleSoft, Dell Boomi, Zapier and even IFTTT to understand the value of adapting to business needs. The ability to bring together all of your in-house services, to one place, is a compelling story but this still needs to be done in line with best practice. 

“The same considerations we have for cloud native development, apply to iPaaS platforms - availability, security, performance, maintainability - all key measures of a successful deployment. 

“For us, it’s important that we understand the product’s role within the wider business, before we can help implement an iPaaS system that can deliver real business benefit. For a lot of our clients, getting data in one place is half the battle, using it in a way that provides clients with new services is where the real win is.” 

If you need integration help or support with any of the above, we’d love to hear from you. Alternatively, you can find out more about the work we do here.

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