What is Application Integration Software?
Application integration software combines and enhances data flows between two separate software applications. Businesses often use application integration software to create a bridge between a new cloud application and an older application hosted on-premise, enabling a wide range of independently designed applications to work together.
What is the Application of Integration?
Application integration services enable the sharing of processes and business data among a wide range of applications in an organization. This means seamlessly connecting all variety of on-premise and cloud apps to transform and orchestrate the data required for business workflows. These applications address a number of business needs and can be anything from CRM and e-commerce platforms to finance and ERP systems.
Once upon a time, your enterprise ran solely on legacy, on-premise software. Next came the growth of cloud computing. Nowadays, you probably have some combination of both. But your on-premise and cloud applications must work together efficiently, and they do so through application integration technology.
So, why application integration, exactly? The short answer is that connected systems are critical to delivering a comprehensive view of regular business workflows, the ones that require multiple technology interventions, and drive revenue.
Most applications, designed at various times and by all variety of vendors, do not inherently talk to each other and require additional technology to enable that communication. And it’s integration technology that connects SaaS and on-premise apps with your enterprise architecture, opens communication mechanisms and eliminates the data silos that slow business processes.
Examples of Application Integration
The definition of application integration technology can vary by company, depending on the use case, data pattern, and the application integration tools you have on hand, all of which play a big role in how these applications get integrated. Some businesses might custom-build a point-to-point integration. Others might take an open-source approach and leverage best practices from developer communities. Still others with the internal resources will leverage an application’s APIs or Web Services.
Whether it’s a one-time move of application data, two-way synchronization, or on-demand data processing, an enterprise application integration (EAI) strategy combines technologies and services to move relevant information among the software applications and IT systems powering your enterprise. Here are a few common EAI approaches:
- On-premise application integration
An on-premise application can be a homegrown ERP that you own or another proprietary tool you’ve purchased and that’s deployed behind your own firewall or in your own “private cloud.” Traditional approaches to such internal application integration include custom-coding them together but also leveraging an enterprise service bus (ESB), a middleware platform that uses a rules engine to transform and route messages and enable communication between applications.
- SaaS application integration
Organizations today often have dozens (even hundreds) of SaaS applications in use across their enterprise. A SaaS CRM like Salesforce or the cloud-based NetSuite ERP are extremely popular data management tools, but they must integrate it into your enterprise architecture to avoid data silos and black boxes. A popular cloud integration method is using a pure-play iPaaS solution. These tools rely on single-use API-based integrations, which are often developer-centric and costly.
- Application-to-application integration
Enterprises in pursuit of end-to-end processing and comprehensive visibility into critical business processes strive for application-to-application integration. Let’s say you’re jumping into e-commerce and want to build out a digital store using Magento or Shopify. Integrating those e-commerce data workflows with your ERP fulfillment processes, which trigger other B2B and EDI data exchange workflows, is critical to ensuring your business can deliver what it just sold. It also enables automation and increases efficiency by eliminating manual data intervention. Whether it’s a Magento-NetSuite integration or a Salesforce-SAP integration, an ecosystem integration platform streamlines these A2A workflows.
3 Challenges to Application Integration
With the proliferation of innovative business software applications, including marketing, HR, messaging and collaboration, accounting and finance, and project management tools, it’s safe to say that businesses tend to use a lot of apps. These applications are often critical for employees to help the business execute on its goals and provide premium service to its customers, and thus, so is application integration.
The more cloud and on-premise applications are added, the more complex the central business integration data flows can become, and all these pieced-together applications run the risk of creating havoc because they are not successfully integrated within the IT environment. But because there are so many different solutions to integrate, including cloud applications and services, companies often are stuck trying to find a reliable solution that supports agile deployment and integration of best-of-breed enterprise application technology.
Companies without the right integration platform will be drowning in an application environment that is custom-coded, unscalable, and difficult to manage. But they also will learn they aren’t gaining the most business value from these application investments.
You can get a lot of data management functionality out of a new ERP, TMS, WMS, CRM, or other application, but here are three reasons why you may not be getting 100 percent value out of it:
Application is silo-ed: Applications spun up individually and outside an enterprise’s core hold data – and any potential data-related insights – hostage in a siloed part of the business. These data “stovepipes” often happen when your IT infrastructure cannot inherently support integration for SaaS solutions and other cloud-based services.
Integration is cumbersome: One-off integrations extend the amount of time it takes to onboard and consume an application, which in turn requires specialized skillsets to maintain. Additionally, these custom-built integrations can throw transaction errors, slow data flows, hinder partner relationships, and impede business growth.
No process automation: Organizations that lack adequate data transformation and mapping capabilities cannot accept and route partner data efficiently, and the application operates outside the automated data orchestration process. This prohibits the real-time data visibility that helps businesses expeditiously respond to customer and partner demands.
5 Application Integration Software Benefits
Think about all the applications you use in your organization that could use some integration. These include Salesforce, NetSuite, SugarCRM, Magento, and even HR, supply chain management (SCM), and warehouse management (WMS) systems.
Modern application integration connectors take your data and transform it into a format that’s compatible with your IT architecture and streamlining the process. An integrated business network, for example, would take an order from your e-commerce gateway, verify the data, transform it into a format compatible with your back-end ERP for processing, connect to your EDI system for logistics and delivery, move it on to the finance system for payment and invoicing, and then sync all the customer order info seamlessly into your CRM.
Pretty cool, huh? It’s a process that is intuitive and tailored to your specific business needs, and it’s why there’s a high demand for application integration today. The benefits of application integration run deep, and include:
Faster GTM: Delays in technology deployment often hinder businesses from gaining a faster ROI. Application connectors enable businesses to go to market quickly with a new system and expedite the return on their investment. Regardless of the application and data format, businesses can integrate and transform data to the proper specifications while eliminating the tedious manual processes that often plague the launch of a new business system.
Process automation: Enterprises’ business processes can vary greatly, and a leading application integration platform will support the seamless handoff of data among all variety of systems and workflows to support efficiency and automation. The ability to re-use map templates saves countless hours on the onboarding and partner configuration processes. A leading integration platform also triggers application events and alerts for proactive troubleshooting and integrated communications.
Concurrent processing: Concurrent processing means multiple processes doing similar work are designed to happen at the same time. For example, the ability to process the same or different order processes at the same time, including order-to-cash transactions, performing product price and quantity lookups, and reconciling front and back-end systems can happen simultaneously. This helps businesses handle multiple orders in real-time, while also still facilitating batch processing where it makes sense.
Visibility: Application integration enables complete end-to-end integration and increased visibility that enables organizations to view, track, and report on the data throughout the workflow. Effective application integration helps companies easily respond to customer expectations and requirements and gain a comprehensive view of end-to-end business processes.
Scalability: A scalable integration platform supports all variety of applications required to grow your business in new ways and leverage the technology required to get there. Application connectors and map reusability mean businesses don’t have to start from scratch on every new integration and can rapidly scale and connect to a new source of business revenue.
How to Improve Application Integration - Use Connectors
Each of these scenarios presents different obstacles that an enterprise must overcome to ensure an application runs as designed and as efficiently as possible. Nobody wants an expensive ERP or CRM deployment and migration only to have it fail to further hinder business productivity.
So, how do you get the most out of your important applications, so they can fulfill their original purposes, empower employees, and create business value?
The answer is simple: prebuilt application connectors.
A portfolio of prebuilt application connectors allows enterprises to integrate all of their business-critical applications. There are many advantages to using these connectors, including faster time to value and a smoother onboarding process among the members of your business ecosystem.
Additionally, application connectors provide enterprises with the agility necessary to expand and evolve their businesses. Instead of spending (wasting) valuable time creating integrations yourself, this process is completed for you so you can better focus your resources on creating true business opportunities.
Connectors can expedite the integration process for a number of applications, but we’ll focus on three application categories core to the modern business ecosystem, its processes, and how business is done in the era of the cloud. They are:
E-Commerce Marketplaces: From manufacturers to wholesalers and traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, companies have started to leverage e-commerce marketplaces to expand their ecosystem and add new revenue streams. E-commerce marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon, and Etsy have allowed supply chain participants to launch new business models for direct selling by way of digital storefronts. Oftentimes, businesses begin small, experimenting at selling on digital marketplaces and utilizing an in-house skillset to manually managing orders, shipments, and fulfillment. However, the reality is that success in e-commerce means managing more product data, more orders, and more fulfillment processes, meaning much more time, manual effort, and manpower are required to effectively support a viable e-commerce presence.
One of the most popular e-commerce marketplaces is Amazon Seller Central. The challenge businesses face, however, is that Amazon’s API richness means connecting and integrating can get very complicated. Teams may need to spend a lot of time to learn and potentially code out a solution, crippling the time to value, and allowing competitors to be there first.
In connecting to Amazon-like e-commerce marketplaces, businesses should consider leveraging API connectors that help streamline business process integration and help eliminate the manual effort needed to maintain their selling.
Connecting to an e-commerce marketplace like Amazon Seller Central must be optimized to ensure that the digital store is integrated as part of a complete end-to-end business process. The Amazon storefront, for example, must integrate into your ERP to align data between front-end and back-end systems to fill orders, monitor inventory, and provide optimal customer experience.
An application connector for Amazon allows the business to quickly configure and orchestrate business processes that leverage Amazon APIs. In this instance, through the connector, a manufacturer could place products directly on Amazon, maintain accurate inventory data, initiate fulfillment processes by Amazon or third-party providers, and gain visibility and insights into the overall business process.
The ability to connect and integrate seamlessly with Amazon puts your company in the driver’s seat and provides a global reach to the business outside of traditional retail. Further, automating data alignment between your e-commerce storefront and back-end ERP systems helps eliminate manual integration processes to greatly reduce costs and errors for competitive advantage.
Cloud ERPs: A cloud ERP (enterprise resource planning) application is hosted on a third-party cloud computing platform, rather than behind your own firewall. Companies that opt for this option do so because it can save a considerable amount of money in the short and long terms. Your costs will be predictable, and most cloud ERPs offer a pay-as-you-go model. Meanwhile, organizations also don’t have to worry about ongoing maintenance and other costs that may arise when you are responsible for managing the solution.
Acumatica is an ERP provider that is specifically designed to work for mid-size enterprises. It provides business applications for finance, distribution, and accounting. A prebuilt application connector allows you to sync Acumatica data across your applications and business ecosystem of trading partners, customers, and more. Connecting to Acumatica’s ERP provides a secure data handoff to enterprise applications and systems for storage and analysis and business intelligence through end-to-end process visibility.
Cloud CRMs: A cloud CRM (customer relationship management) application is similar to a cloud ERP in that it is also hosted by a third-party provider. A CRM uses data integration so that enterprises can gain valuable information about their customers to better serve them. The type of information gathered is wide-ranging, but an integrated cloud CRM ultimately helps you manage a database of sales leads, track and monitor outreach, and ensure your important customer records are up to date.
The most common and widely used cloud CRM is Salesforce, a SaaS platform in use by virtually every industry for a variety of business functions, such as sales, service, and marketing. A prebuilt Salesforce application connector integrates your environment with the cloud CRM in order to sync customer relationship data to your back-end systems. Salesforce makes it simple so you can access your communication and information pertaining to any of your customers.
The Best Application Integration Software
Application connectors provide a full view and enablement of the internal and external B2B processes from start to finish. Businesses that don’t leverage application connectors to onboard and integrate new partners quickly and create end-to-end integration between mission-critical systems are at a serious disadvantage and must consider an application integration strategy to compete today.
The best application integration solutions provide the capabilities above and are designed to be easily customizable and automatically update directly to the appropriate data model across your technologies. Traditional (EDI and AS2), modern (APIs and JSON), and specialized (AS4) integration patterns must be supported, but cloud integration storage connectors, for rapid and secure data lake ingestion, also are becoming more common in the enterprise.
Rather than having to limit your business to a set of applications that can work within the current infrastructure, organizations can have the option to use whatever works best for the organization and just knowing that their integration technology can support it.
If you’re worried about whether an application one of your business departments decided to randomly deploy will integrate into your network, check out how the leading B2B and application integration platform supports such integration with a robust portfolio of application connectors.
You’ll put your worries aside as your business leverages the gold standard in integration and begins reaping the benefits of application integration for the modern enterprise.