Thanks to the consumerization of enterprise tech, business applications have proliferated exponentially, and there’s no end in sight. For example, in marketing technology alone, business applications have grown from just 150 in 2011 to over 7,000 in 2019.
As new business challenges emerge, developers create apps to help users solve problems across virtually every industry. The best business apps have well-designed interfaces, making them easy to use and requiring little or no training.
Consumerization has decreased the IT team’s involvement with the business app purchase and implementation process. Today, department heads usually decide which apps they need, and the department buys and deploys the software themselves.
From department to department, users don’t always choose apps in the same ecosystem — sales selects a CRM solution, marketing adds new apps to the martech stack, operations chooses an ERP system, etc.
Most business apps provide limited integration features as a selling point, but the sheer volume of software in use across every department inevitably results in data silos. And that’s where the problem arises, because data is one of an organization’s most valuable resources.
If organizations struggle to use data efficiently and effectively, it’s hard to compete and win in this business environment. In other words, if a business’ apps aren’t integrated, they’ll fall behind.
IT can take the lead on data integration
As departments add business apps, they typically look for ways to integrate data within their own and adjacent business units. Basic app integration features may facilitate data flow within related systems built on popular ecosystems — martech automation solutions may transmit data to the CRM, for example.
But business unit leaders usually focus on data within their sphere of operations and don’t give much thought to how their data flows across the larger organization.
The downside of this approach is that many crucial business processes depend on the fluid motion of data across departments.
When siloed data creates bottlenecks, individuals within departments may take matters into their own hands and create spreadsheets, transmit data via email, or engage in other manual processes to move information along the necessary paths.
This is not only a drain on resources, but it inevitably leads to errors, such as data entry mistakes and security issues for the entire organization.
To address the issue holistically, IT can step in and take a leadership role to ensure the fluid movement of data across the organization — a flow that is absolutely critical to automate tasks and achieve digital transformation.
It’s a good idea for IT to step up sooner rather than later, because as the organization grows and scales up to meet higher demand, data complexity grows. So, how does an organization take control of data flow? The first step is to develop a robust data integration strategy.
Overview of common integration solutions
Large data-driven enterprises might have an integration strategy at their core, but for most companies, integration is an afterthought that is addressed only when new applications are added and data silos are recognized as a problem.
At that point, the issue won’t be approached holistically. Siloes are typically addressed on an ad-hoc basis in one of the following ways:
- Native or vendor-created integration solutions: This class of integration solutions often comes out of the box at no extra cost and connects business processes that are related — think marketing automation data flowing into a CRM system. These solutions work well within closed ecosystems, but customization is limited, and they’re not flexible enough to meet complex integration needs.
- Point-to-point (P2P) connectors: Usually designed to operate within a specific domain, P2P connectors are affordable. But like native integration solutions, they lack flexibility and are unable to accommodate more complex business processes. As companies add business cloud apps, it’s a challenge to keep adding P2P connectors to solve every problem that arises.
- DIY integration solutions: Do-it-yourself integrations are often the first choice to handle complex integration needs. As organizations grow, IT resources are increasingly needed to develop DIY integration solutions, and with the right personnel, this approach can work for a while. But most companies run into IT resource shortages eventually, which can be a barrier to scaling up.
Using integration platform as a service (iPaaS) as a holistic solution
Gartner defines iPaaS as “a suite of cloud services enabling development, execution and governance of integration flows connecting any combination of on premises and cloud-based processes, services, applications and data within individual or across multiple organizations.”
Expected to generate revenue of approximately $2B by 2023, the iPaaS industry is growing rapidly – and it’s showing businesses how to effectively standardize how applications are added and data is integrated within their organization.
A well-designed iPaaS solution solves the problems associated with native, P2P and DIY integration solutions because it is extremely flexible and customizable.
iPaaS allows users to address complex integration needs, and it enables business users without technical training to build, manage, and maintain integration points. In addition, an iPaaS solution guarantees data delivery, handles errors and makes it easy to connect applications without coding.
iPaaS also improves data governance by restricting access to data to authorized users. It provides a central console that allows users to create, manage, and govern integration and automates the exchange between applications, data silos, and trading partners, which simplifies lifecycle management.
iPaaS platforms also provide developer tools to enable deep customization.
In short, iPaaS offers a holistic solution to the data integration challenge, allowing organizations to leave piecemeal, labor-intensive workarounds behind.
It allows individual departments to continue adding business apps as the need arises while ensuring that data flows across the organization, and it standardizes how apps are added, solvinga number of data governance issues.
Integration for automation & digital transformation
In an economy where customer expectations and competition are steadily increasing, the ability to automate core processes and ensure fluid data flow is a key success factor.
The earlier companies adopt an integration strategy and implement an iPaaS solution, the better equipped they are to compete and win in a fast-moving business environment.
That also means it’s critical to choose the right iPaaS solution. It’s a good idea to look for an iPaaS solution that allows users to address complex integrations as new apps come online.
Another crucial feature is an iPaaS solution that lets business users create, manage, and maintain integrations so the IT team can focus on more strategic tasks.
The winners in the modern economy will be the companies that use data to operate more efficiently, personalize customer outreach and service, and anticipate change in their industry.
That requires the ability to capture information from across the organization, automate processes, and digitally transform the company. Businesses that adopt a holistic, robust application integration strategy will be ready to compete in this new environment while those that don’t will fall behind.