Application software integration can benefit your business in a number of ways. Read on to discover what it is and how to successfully achieve it.
A Practical Guide to Application Software Integration
In the current digital era, when a huge array of software applications are available to businesses, application software integration is a critical solution. Worldwide IT spending on enterprise software has reached $856 billion, however, the more applications a business uses, the more likely it is that vital data will become siloed.
The best way to avoid this is to connect your critical systems and allow data to be shared between them. This is where integrating software applications comes in. In this post, we’ll explore how it works, the benefits and challenges of the solution, and some tips for making it a success.
What is application software?
Application software is any software program designed to help a user perform a specific task. Simple examples include programs like Excel, Word, and Photoshop, communications software like Slack and Skype, or web browsers like Chrome and Firefox.
Many of the tools used to run businesses, from financial systems, HR, CRM and ERP systems to customer facing applications are also application software. While these are all critical software systems, using multiple applications from different vendors can cause data to fall through gaps or become siloed.
The solution is to get your applications to “talk” to each other by integrating your software applications.
What is application software integration and how does it work?
Application software integration is the process of connecting separate applications or systems so they can work together. You effectively create a bridge between software programs or between older applications that are hosted on-premise and new cloud-based applications.
Connected applications and systems can exchange data quickly or in real time. While distinct copies of the data are preserved in each application, users gain access to information and features from across the company’s infrastructure. The merged workflows can also streamline actions previously carried out by separate applications.
There are various application integration styles, and these can be used individually or in combination. For example, API-led integration works via integration connectors, using application programming interfaces (APIs) to send and receive data between apps and perform data mapping.
In comparison, point-to-point integration uses in-house resources to connect applications via custom code, and some application vendors also offer built-in or “native” integrations.
Some other options are enterprise service bus (ESB) middleware, which integrates applications via a communication layer between them, or a cloud-based integration platform as a service (iPaaS) subscription.
Additionally, you could orchestrate integration flows by setting up “events and actions”. An event is an occurrence that takes place in one application and triggers the action you want to happen in your connected applications. For example, when a customer uses a chatbot on your website, details of the interaction may be automatically transferred to your CRM.
There are many other use cases for enterprise application integration. For instance, it’s often used in banking to connect back-end services with customer-facing mobile apps or to integrate production monitoring devices with inventory systems in manufacturing. Businesses may also integrate their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems with other applications, such as payment processing or supply chain functions.
Benefits of application software integration
Now that we have a comprehensive application software integration definition, let's look at its benefits.
Improved data accuracy
Integrating software applications significantly improves the accuracy of your data. Manual data handling carries a high risk of human error, for example, data could be incorrectly entered or imported into databases.
With integrated applications, information flows automatically—and instantly—between systems. A single view also reduces the risk of data duplication and provides increased visibility. In fact, users can access all data from any location, which improves decision-making.
Enhanced productivity and collaboration
In terms of productivity, application software integration saves employees time because they don’t have to manually re-enter data in multiple applications. Integration tools also make it easier and quicker to create integration flows, as users don’t need in-depth knowledge of various platforms or domains.
Thanks to the near-real-time interactions, businesses can respond to new data or performance issues as they happen. With all your information flowing seamlessly, there’s no need to navigate between apps to search for what you need. This easy access also simplifies collaboration between different areas of your business.
Legacy system integration
Your business probably has some older on-premises applications, and you don’t necessarily want to replace these. They may still generate valuable data or perform certain vital functions, and replacing them can be expensive and time-consuming.
With application integration, you can connect your legacy systems to modern cloud-based or SaaS apps using an API integration platform or database connector. This means you can modernize your infrastructure without losing time or money.
What to look for in an application integration solution
As we mentioned, there are various different methods of application integration. When you’re researching solutions, these are a few of the essential aspects to look out for.
Ease of use and governance
Like any computing solution, tools need to be easy to use without requiring extensive training for employees. A low-code, or, even better, no-code, application integration solution will allow users across the business to set up integrations.
However, when more people are involved in integrating systems and data, there is also an increased security risk. You can ensure applications and processes stay safe by choosing a solution with strong security features, such as role-based access control and activity audit logs.
Machine learning and AI capabilities
Since you want your application integration solution to stand the test of time, it’s worth looking for built-in machine learning and AI features. This will help future-proof your system as these technologies continue to advance.
With AI and machine learning, you can build intelligent integrations that actually become smarter over time. As well as automating workflows and data exchange, this tech will suggest actions, such as fields that can be mapped between applications. It can also help you detect potential cyberattacks.
Your chosen solution should also include workflow automation for business processes. As we mentioned earlier, you can design these to be triggered by specific events in real-time, such as auto-generating invoices when a job is completed or sending follow-up emails to sales prospects after interactions.
A good application integration platform will allow you to easily do this across systems. You can set up alerts for specific events too, such as your inventory running low or a customer complaining, which will allow you to be more proactive in your responses.
Connectors and automation templates
Many integration solutions provide pre-built connectors for integrating systems such as SaaS applications, on-premises systems, and databases. This saves you time and helps you use resources more effectively as you don’t have to create integrations yourself.
Apart from speeding up application integration, pre-built connectors can also provide a full view of processes. Check how many connectors are available from your vendor as well as their functionality. You should also look out for libraries of automation templates, which will save you time and can inspire the creation of new workflows.
Key steps for successful application software integration
Before you dive into application integration, let’s go through the steps you’ll need to take during the process. Bear in mind that timescales will vary depending on factors such as the number of applications you want to integrate, the method of integration, and the complexity of your software.
Every successful project starts with a detailed plan. Define your objectives and requirements to ensure that the integration is aligned with your business goals (this could be anything from improving productivity to minimizing data errors).
Decide which systems and processes are going to be integrated as well as the type of data you want them to exchange. It’s also important to identify if you will need to transform the data formats.
You’ll need to decide which applications should be prioritized and choose metrics for measuring your success at this stage.
Once your plan is complete, you can design the integration process. Choose the approach that makes the most sense for your business. For example, whether you go with point-to-point or ESB will depend on whether your applications have native integrations and APIs or if you’ll require third-party tools for the process.
Factor in any requirements for the finished system (e.g. availability, integrity, scalability, maintainability, performance, etc), as well as security. It’s best to specify who will take responsibility for aspects like data privacy and compliance before you get started.
Once you know what you’re looking for, you can draw up a shortlist of potential solutions to compare them. Analyze each one’s capabilities and ease of use. Consider looking for a solution with plenty of available support if you need it, and make sure you pick one that’s scalable, flexible, and future-proof.
4. Implementation and testing
It’s time to put your plan into action! An initial test strategy will allow you to make sure that the integration solution will work, and running tests on the newly-integrated system will ensure it meets all your requirements in terms of functionality, security, and compliance.
Your QA team should validate the integration by verifying all queries between the connected applications, carrying out orchestration testing, and approving the work failover and recovery mechanisms.
It’s also good practice to audit your integration regularly and make adjustments if needed.
Top three challenges of application integration
We’ve established the benefits of integrating software applications, as well as the best method for doing so. However, to be fully prepared, you should also understand the common challenges of application software integration.
Complex integration process
Although there are many ways to simplify application integration, such as using native integrations, prebuilt connectors, and APIs, it’s still a complex process. Your business likely uses lots of different software, and things get even more complicated with on-premise and cloud integration.
Plus, even with all your systems successfully connected, they’re not one single system. This means each individual application will still need its own upgrades and maintenance, which can be time-consuming.
Lack of process automation
Part of the reason many businesses decide to undertake application software integration is to save time by enabling employees to easily access data and avoid manual transfers. However, you won’t maximize the benefits of connected systems unless you introduce automation into the process.
For this, you will need a solution with automated data transformation, orchestration, and mapping capabilities (as well as the ability for anyone to set up event-and-action workflows).
The whole point of integrating software applications is to connect separate systems and data—both in the cloud and on-premises. You’re trying to avoid silos, but this isn’t always easy.
For example, if you have applications that were designed to stand alone, this can lead to data “stovepipes”. Your IT infrastructure may not inherently support integration for cloud-based services either, so it can be more difficult to connect these systems.
Simplify work processes by integrating applications with OpenLegacy
As we’ve seen, application software integration enables you to avoid data silos, errors caused by manual data entry, and poor visibility. However, if you’re connecting multiple software solutions or integrating legacy and cloud systems, the task will become more complex.
Fortunately, OpenLegacy provides integration as a service to help you bridge the gap between digital services and data from on-premises systems. You can build, automate, and manage legacy integrations, which can be deployed in any cloud environment, in one place.
As well as simplifying the flow of data between systems, the platform includes automated templating and low-code or no-code options to make your life even easier.
FAQs about application software integration
What are the risks of integrating applications with other apps?
The main risk is security. When you integrate data, it has to move through new gateways between applications and systems, which creates vulnerabilities—for example, this could expose passwords or login data, which might be accessed by hackers.
You can mitigate this by putting extra protocols in place, such as mandating the use of complex passwords.
Insufficient coding can also cause security issues. This can happen if developers have been rushed and created code that’s functional but doesn’t address potential security problems.
What is application integration data mapping?
The process of data mapping is an essential part of application integration. It connects data fields from one application, system, or database, known as the source, to a target system and ensures that they match.
For example, your workflow could automatically pull customer information from a web signup form into your CRM, but if the form treats the customer’s first and last names as two separate fields, while your CRM has just one “full name” field, the data can become corrupted as it’s transferred.
By reconciling the different data models in the two systems, data mapping guarantees that accurate and useable data is delivered to the target system.
How is application integration different from data integration?
Data integration and application integration have several similarities, as they both pull information from various sources and combine it in a unified structure.
However, where application integration links multiple apps together, data integration is typically used after the completion of business processes.
Essentially, it involves extracting data from a system, cleansing it, transforming it, and loading it into a data warehouse, where data analysts can perform analysis to identify insights and trends.
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