Integration software has historically been one of the most dreaded areas of information technology.
Because historically it’s been cumbersome, complicated, and difficult to implement successfully. As any CIO or IT Director will tell you, there’s traditionally not been much technology more maddening to IT professionals than integration software.
But given the rapid explosion of cloud technology and digital ecosystems in recent years, thankfully integration software across the enterprise has gotten a lot easier to understand and implement.
In this blog, we’re going to face those fears about integration software complexity by shedding light on what integration software is, what it does, and what it means for your company.
And we’ll talk about how recent innovations in modern B2B integration technology – ecosystem integration software -- can make your life easier.
Because the best antidote to fear something is a better understanding and controlling it.
Off we go.
What is Integration Software?
The general idea of integration software is to stitch together your company’s disparate business applications and data.
Because enterprises often have many different software applications running simultaneously – ERP, CRM, WMS, TMS, HMS, or other “backend” systems of record, not to mention the rapidly growing legions of front-end applications, point solutions, or supply-chain-related applications -- it’s easy for an IT environment to grow so complex that it’s too difficult to manage dataflows efficiently.
This can bog down information processes, which slows organizational decision-making. And that can impact productivity and slow your company’s revenue generation activities.
For example, perhaps your company needs to create or enable ERP integration to connect a front-end application like Shopify or Magento to your back-end ERP system.
Integration software can help you do this and a whole lot more. Integration software standardizes and centralizes point-to-point integration methods across the entire enterprise’s infrastructure, so data previously stuck in silos can be liberated and flow more freely.
Let’s examine some of the types of solutions that make up the broader field of integration software.
EAI – Enterprise Application Integration
In the old days, each connected application, say a supply chain management (SCM) solution, would need its own connector. But nowadays, more standardized methods exist to connect to a common system, which provides integration functionality across a company’s entire network. And regardless of whether your integrated software applications reside in-house or in the cloud, these connectors are now actually less expensive and more effective than they’ve ever been before.
An enterprise integration platform can tie together all of the different applications that an enterprise needs to function in a simple-to-use solution. In doing so, enterprise application integration enables companies to manage data sources through these one-stop interfaces. With added flexibility, enterprises can add or subtract different business processes into their environment quickly. Mostly what a company has to do, then, is adjust the configuration of its enterprise application integration strategy so that multiple applications can re-use a single service. The amount of applications that an enterprise must integrate is increasing by the day. With pre-built application connectors, a simplified information flow, and real-time visibility, embracing and taking advantage of an enterprise application integration platform promises more benefits than previous one-off and custom approaches.
To ensure maximum efficiency, enterprises must be able to integrate and streamline various data sources and business processes within their ecosystem.
Data integration is the process of combining data from several different sources into one unified view, to make the data more actionable and valuable to an enterprise.
Data integration software achieves consistent access and delivery of data across different business processes to meet the information consumption requirements of all applications.
While there is no universal approach that is a one-size-fits-all fix to data integration, most solutions feature a few common traits, such as a network of data sources, one master server, and clients that access data from a master server. Most often, organizations choose to deploy a data integration software that flexibly connects the systems and applications powering their critical information flows.
Electronic Document Interchange (EDI)
EDI stands for Electronic Data Interchange. It is a method for electronically exchanging standardized business information between trading partners.
Think of EDI as a common electronic business language that allows trading partners to quickly and easily communicate with each other.
Before EDI software, businesses relied on moving paper-based documents, which would take far too long and did not provide the flexibility that an electronic exchange would.
EDI technology today is not what it used to be. Its purpose was to move order and invoice information among external trading partners. More often now, companies are using EDI software integration to integrate other applications into that flow and require consolidated integration for ERP, CRM, WMS, and other cloud and on-premise applications.
Modern integration solutions enable this holistic connectivity and business-wide visibility at greater speeds so they can achieve faster time to revenue.
Leading integration companies of today have engineered exciting platforms that address EDI integration needs holistically, across the full range of application and process integration workflows within the modern enterprise.
Without EDI, efficient communication between organizations wouldn’t exist. Instead, retailers, manufacturers, governments, and multiple other industries would have to rely on manual and outdated procedures to facilitate business-to-business (B2B) communication.
And that’s why EDI is so important.
The use of a standardized communication format creates an international language across every industry in the world.
EDI has evolved over the decades to become the most globally recognized business communication standard, allowing enterprises to conduct business electronically across business networks and geographic borders.
In this way, EDI has become the dominant language of business.
These are just a few examples of the types of solutions that fit under the mantel of “integration software.”
There are more – including:
- MFT or file-based integration
- eCommerce integration
- B2B Gateways
By any name or function though, the importance of integration software is the same: It brings your enterprise together digitally so you can do more humanly. And it does this by solving a wide variety of IT problems in myriad clever, sensible ways.
For one, let’s look at the value of integration software from the perspective of siloed data.
Why integration software is important
In virtually every enterprise, regardless of size, data silos result from the way companies are organized (e.g., by departments), the way they operate (e.g., culture/sub-cultures), and limits to current technology (e.g., lack of integration software).
The fact that silos exist is no surprise nor as worrisome as the problems they cause – lack of data visibility, the potential for security lapses, unnecessary expense in time and money, less worker collaboration, and lower productivity to name a few.
What most companies long for is a way to break down data silos so all the institutional knowledge contained in their data can be leveraged and monetized.
This calls for integration software so that data can be centralized (e.g., in a data lake), acted on (e.g., analytics), and used more productively by human beings to make real-time business decisions.
Be it data integration or application integration, or EDI, the benefits of integration software are worth understanding so you can best decide how you’ll approach investing in these types of solutions given the goals and objectives of your business growth strategy.
Some of the main advantages of integrated software applications are:
If you have limited visibility into the key integration points across your end-to-end business processes like Order-to-Cash or Procure-to-Pay, you are opening yourself up to all sorts of complications. In other words, your B2B integration strategy is broken.
Most companies with broken B2B integration are mainly struggling to integrate enterprise workflows with cloud environments without divesting their traditional on-premise systems.
If your current integration strategy does not support end-to-end integration visibility, you ought to embrace a modern integration platform that can do all these things and more, including transforming EDI documents and putting them into your back-end ERP/WMS/TMS/CRM system to complete its lifecycle B2B transaction.
Plus, the capability to do EDI, API, MFT, and eCommerce transactions using just one platform will help you leverage integration for the benefit of not just your company, but your entire business ecosystem.
Improved Process Flows
The modern enterprise has a greater thirst for how its critical data flows fit into the broader context of the business, and thus, organizations demand more of their integration technology. But traditional approaches to integration lack the capabilities to meet these modern demands and fully enable business process integration. Integration requires more than just point solutions that can deliver B2B and EDI capabilities. Modern integration comprises a broader network of applications, SaaS solutions, and cloud services as part of the IT infrastructure, and requires greater connectivity needs for a fully transparent solution. While many integration platforms fail to provide adequate visibility into the important information flowing through the system, they also fail to provide adequate transparency into the integration process. In this sense, improving process flows involves establishing the transparency you need to see into the current state of a business process, whereas visibility describes how we make information we’ve made transparently available to key stakeholders.
It’s no secret that today more companies are moving their applications and data to the cloud to consume the value of SaaS software solutions, and cost savings is certainly top of the list of reasons why.
Cost savings can take myriad positive forms, though, including quicker implementation cycles, ease of use and accessibility, ease of maintenance and upgrades, better security, and high availability. Regardless, modern integration software is designed to be cost-favorable to the customer/user.
Here are three reasons why that’s so:
- First, software companies have less ability to lock-in pricing with SaaS than they do with expensive license software implementations, which is good for customers. Software companies must stay nimble on cost management to deliver increasingly higher value to their customers at a lower cost.
- Second, cloud offerings also bring customer expectations of high-performance service. Whereas before, the customer was sharing the cost of application development with the rest of the product’s customer base, the customer is now also sharing the cost of the infrastructure for the platform on which the application operates. Customer expectations are growing for high-quality solutions and services at less cost.
- Third, software companies must modify their existing on-premise software offerings in order to effectively deploy in a SaaS/cloud environment. Yet, there is a global shortage of qualified talent to migrate existing applications to the cloud. Enhanced Business Scalability
At the core of many successful supply chain companies is an integration strategy that allows fast response times to customer demands, compliance to SLA requirements and mandates, and control and visibility over all transactional processes moving in and throughout the organization.
A B2B approach to your integration software strategy will make it easier to do business through the consolidation of all data and applications, on-premise or in the cloud, and enable scalability for new integration use cases, like cloud, application while ensuring operational uptime and compliance.
Given all the foregoing, what then is the best integration software for addressing problems like siloed data, limited transparency and visibility, future scalability, and cost?
And which integration software do you need given your business growth objectives?
Choosing the integration software that gives you the ability to centralize data, attain the visibility you need, and that also positions your business to succeed over the long term, calls for moving beyond “traditional” integration software solutions into what’s known as an “ecosystem integration” approach
Ecosystem integration is different from traditional “internal” integration approaches because it brings an “outside-in” approach to integration.
Traditional integration was always enterprise-centric, concerned primarily with connecting a company to a standard set of business partners and internal applications through common technologies such as EDI, and usually in a batch (i.e., not real-time) manner.
All the thinking was inside-out, not outside-in. In the age of the cloud, that’s been reversed.
As a technology paradigm, digital Ecosystem Integration is about opening up a company to as many suppliers, customers, marketplaces, service providers, and SaaS applications as necessary so that it can conduct frictionless business -- in real-time.
Imagine how fluid your business would be if all the revenue-producing processes that emanate outside your four walls were connected to your mission-critical internal applications through an agile technology platform that can seamlessly respond to changes in market conditions and business mandates from the ecosystem partners.
That’s what Ecosystem Integration does.
By blending traditional batch-based EDI with real-time API capabilities, to provide seamless orchestration across core business processes such as Order to Cash and Procure to Pay.
Well, how can ecosystem integration get you the EDI visibility and order processing control that’s right for you?
Cleo Integration Cloud
Cleo Integration Cloud (CIC) is a cloud-based integration platform, purpose-built to design, build, operate and optimize critical ecosystem integration processes.
The CIC platform brings end-to-end integration visibility across API, EDI, and non-EDI integrations that give technical and business users the confidence to rapidly onboard trading partners, enable integration between applications, and accelerate revenue-generating business processes.
On the platform, businesses have the choice of self-service, managed services, or a blended approach – ensuring complete flexibility and control over their B2B integration strategy.
When it comes to EDI visibility, Cleo Integration Cloud doesn't just support the technical integration, it gives you visibility into the underlying business processes.
You get actionable insights into the business value that each EDI document represents presented in the context of its impact on the broader business.
If you’ve read this far, by now your long-held fears about integration software have diminished if not disappeared.
That should be the case, because with today’s innovative ecosystem integration software platforms are easy to understand, cost-effective, and reliable, and, at long last, they put you in control of this critical area of IT once and for all.