What is enterprise integration and why is it important?
Enterprise integration uses technologies and methodologies to integrate business applications, data, private and public clouds, processes, and devices across the entire IT landscape. Enterprise integration is important because it connects functionality and communication across systems, allowing organisations to react quickly to the needs of the business and become a more responsive and agile enterprise.
The complexity of most enterprise environments typically involves multiple clouds, rampant application sprawl, and data scale, which makes it difficult to futureproof or manage the business. Enterprise integration takes a holistic approach to solving integration challenges by bringing together the separate data and application integration disciplines into one combined effort with one governance model.
Learn the essentials of enterprise integration in our guide:
How enterprise integration became a strategic business initiative
In the early days of application management, integration seemed more like an aspirational goal. It focused primarily on data integration, especially within the manufacturing sector where computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) was taking off.
By the 1990s, enterprise integration became a focal point as businesses grappled with a multitude of applications, all working in isolation from each other. The value of integrating these disparate systems across the enterprise was clear. However, initial efforts to integrate systems involved point-to-point integrations from one business application to another, using data integration software. This linear approach did not address the objective of building and maintaining a consistent and secure integration framework for the entire enterprise.
Today, enterprise integration has become a strategic imperative, especially given the exponential growth of business-critical enterprise applications and data as companies adopt more cloud solutions. In fact, a recent ESG survey of IT leadership found that 1 in 5 organisations view enterprise integration as a top-5 business priority over the next two years.
Most CIOs agree that enterprise integration is the cornerstone to unlocking greater responsiveness and agility. So, how can business leaders strategically approach this mission-critical initiative?
of organisations consider enterprise integration a top-5 business priority over the next 2 years.
9 of 10
organisations surveyed struggle with their enterprise integration strategy.
Indeed, enterprise integration is at a tipping point, with organisations around the world hyper-focused on optimising efficiencies, improving data visibility, and transforming their businesses into sustainable and intelligent organisations.
For example, Endress + Hauser – an industrial machinery and components company in Germany – increased project speed and reduced costs by greater than 5X by using cloud-based data and enterprise integration solutions.
Types of enterprise integration
There are a number of different types of integration connecting critical systems, processes, data, and applications across all lines of business within an organisation that drive transformational benefits.
- Application integration: With enterprise application integration (EIS), processes and data can be optimised, integrated, and shared between separate software applications in real-time to deliver improved insights, visibility, and productivity across the organisation.
- Data integration: With data integration, information – or data – is discovered, retrieved, and compiled from disparate sources into a structured and unified view.
- Cloud Integration: With cloud integration, multiple hybrid cloud environments are pulled together (both public and private clouds) as a cohesive IT infrastructure that addresses data, processes, system architectures, and enterprise applications.
- API Integration: With application programming interface (API), integration two (or more) enterprise applications are connected via their APIs, allowing those systems to exchange data sources. These critical connections power processes and workflows throughout the business in order to sync data, enhance organisational productivity, and drive growth.
- Platform integration: With platform integration, a comprehensive set of software products enables IT professionals to develop secure integration flows that connect and govern disparate applications, systems, services, and data sources in the cloud. Platform integration is also closely related to integrated platform as a service (iPaaS).
- Process integration: With process integration, workflows and processes that span multiple applications and systems can be optimised and orchestrated to transform operations and drive efficiency.
- Device integration: With device integration, different devices are connected so they can communicate, interact, and interoperate to support business needs and drive productivity.
By integrating multiple clouds, applications, platforms, workflows, and devices, business leaders can leverage real-time data and processes from across the organisation to make informed decisions. That same 2022 survey by ESG found that the operational impacts of enterprise integration exceeded expectations, with 90% of respondents seeing improved data visibility and an 89% noticing a reduction in management complexity.
The business benefits of enterprise integration
Optimising and automating business processes.
Customers and employees expect a personalised and seamless experience across multiple digital touchpoints. By optimising and automating fragmented internal business processes, businesses are simultaneously providing compelling customer experiences.
Delivering customer insight.
Market leaders today must leverage data from inside and outside their organisations to anticipate customer needs and preferences. Organisations can gain a 360-degree understanding of their customers and audiences to increase loyalty and grow their competitive advantage.
Designing a futureproof IT landscape.
A successful digital strategy often requires extending legacy systems to support new business models. Cohesive enterprise integration solutions can unlock the value of your existing investments with an API-first approach.
Enabling the API economy.
Companies are embracing APIs to unlock unique services and create new business models for a competitive advantage. These companies are able to drive these economies within and beyond their immediate organisational boundaries by leveraging digital channels to build a surrounding ecosystem of buyers, partners, and suppliers.
The technologies involved in enterprise integration
Intelligent enterprises are integrated enterprises. They apply advanced technologies, intelligent process automation, and real-time data to drive growth and impact the business. As such, the applications, data, and devices at the core of the business strategy must be made accessible, and across multiple cloud environments all at once.
Delivering on the promise of transformation means effectively connecting and automating business processes, applications, and data sources. To streamline this process and minimise risk, many organisations leverage enterprise application integration software (middleware) as well as cloud services.
Oftentimes a guided scope is included to assess an organisation’s integration requirements and goals, which allows the business to apply proven patterns for process, data, user, and IoT-centric scenarios.
Enterprise application integration software solutions and cloud services often address the following transformational business technologies:
- iPaaS: Integration platform as a service (iPaaS) delivers a cloud service for application, data, process, and service-oriented architecture (SOA) integration scenarios. It's a multi-tenant platform that supports cloud-to-cloud, cloud-to-on-premise, on-premise-to-on-premise, and B2B integration.
- EiPaaS: Gartner defines enterprise integration platform as a service (EiPaaS) as a combination of integration technology functionalities that are delivered as a suite of cloud services and designed to support enterprise-class integration initiatives.
- IaaS: Integration as a service (IaaS) is an instant computing infrastructure provisioned and managed over the Internet.
- Messaging: Messaging is a way for different components in a distributed application architecture to communicate. Components can send and receive messages across different languages, compilers, and operating systems as long as each side of the communication understands the common messaging format and protocol.
- Application Connectors: Application connectors are architectural elements that model the rules for how components interact. They are standard class connections customised for certain APIs, so they can be used to quickly integrate new endpoints.
- Data Streams: Data streams provide a constant flow of information that applications can add to or consume, independent of the transmission of that data.
- Enterprise Integration Patterns: EIPs are collections of technology-independent solutions to common integration problems. Patterns also provide a common language for developers and application architects to describe integrations.
- Application Programming Interfaces (APIs): An API is a set of tools, definitions, and protocols for building application software. It lets your product or service communicate with other products and services without having to know how they’re implemented.
Examples of enterprise integration
A centralised analytics infrastructure to build a smarter Infrastructure and reduce emissions:
To improve data management and enhance analytics across a £600 billion capital infrastructure investment portfolio, British construction company Costain Group plc proposed a common data platform called the intelligent infrastructure control centre (IICC). Unifying their project data for smarter analytics resulted in lowering infrastructure costs by 66%. It also reduced the demand for data centres, helping the sector reduce its carbon footprint and achieve its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Even better, with data virtualisation making siloed data available, 80% of all data is now accessible, up from 30%. That sort of full data transparency gave management visibility into the impact of day-to-day project activities, providing critical information to help support key decision-makers. Those advanced and predictive analytics reduce unknowns and lower risk while helping further cut costs and increase project efficiencies.
Creating a customer-centric online retail experience:
To support mobility, unify channels, and create a seamless customer journey, consumer electronics retailer, Elkjøp, created a frictionless, omnichannel customer experience with a sustainable IT foundation that enables flexibility and rapid innovation at scale. In order to fulfil its vision for a next-generation retail experience, Elkjøp made the decision to replace 12 legacy systems with a new integrated architecture. The dramatic, cloud-based overhaul resulted in a fully integrated retail platform that has both improved workflows and delivered 100% uptime. Their ambitious transformation strategy yielded an array of other benefits for Elkjøp, including an 800% increase in the number of positive product ratings and growing their customer database to more than 5M (in the Nordics alone).
Best practices in enterprise integration
- Start with a platform approach. A platform-based approach supports the multiple dimensions of enterprise connectivity, catering to a wide range of integration use cases (such as application, process, data, usage, sensors, and others) across on-premise, cloud, and hybrid ecosystems.
- Use APIs as foundational building blocks. APIs serve as interchangeable integration components within a platform framework, supporting the integration of people, processes, and systems. This allows the business to easily transform digital assets into new business models through a variety of monetization plans.
- Make integration accessible to everyone. By democratizing integration, the business can empower all users with intuitive, no-code build experiences. Business users of all backgrounds and technical capabilities can update and build integrations to help maximise business value, lessening the reliance on dedicated developers.
- Implement smart lifecycle management. Create ongoing management plans to support the enterprise integration strategy. Plans must include access control, change management processes, rules for extending integrations, management of system credentials, and data encryption. For hybrid deployments, lifecycle management must be able to push patches and upgrades to runtime engines whether on-premise or in the cloud.
- Drive continual improvements with analytics and predictive intelligence. Use integration activity analytics to draw insights from the flow of data across the business, departments, and endpoints. With increases in user-led integration, predictive intelligence can recognise integration patterns on usage across the organisation.
- Establish an integration centre of excellence (ICoE). An integration centre of excellence (ICoE), also known as an integration competency centre (ICC), is a shared service within an organisation that methodically integrates data, system, cloud, and enterprise applications in a coherent, scalable, and cost-effective way to deliver an enduring competitive advantage. As a centralised function disseminating knowledge and standardising processes across the organisation, the ICoE’s role is to promote enterprise integration as a formal discipline. ICC’s yield multiple benefits to the business including reduced infrastructure and data centre costs, sustainable growth, greater supply chain stability, intelligent technologies and predictive analytics for enhanced decision-making, smarter processes automation, and much more.
How to establish an integration centre of excellence (ICoE)
True enterprise integration extends far beyond systems, applications, and processes to encompass organisational cultures, structures, and workflows. Converging the diversity of skills, knowledge, and expertise will break down silos and yield new digital offerings as well as an enhanced customer experience, overall.
This is no longer a digital transformation ideal, it is table stakes. The competitive and fiscal advantages of establishing an integration centre of excellence are too great to ignore.
To accomplish this strategic imperative, organisations must assign a C-suite sponsor and build a cross-department team dedicated to applying best practices and standards. This will optimise scarce IT resources by combining integration skills, resources, and processes into one dedicated team of subject matter experts. These experts should be drawn from various disciplines including compliance and security – and all lines of business – that oversee applications and data directly impacted by the integration.
The 5 essential steps to establishing an effective Integration Center of Excellence (ICoE) are:
- Assessing integration maturity
- Establishing a mission, charter, scope, and targets
- Performing a GAP analysis and developing a list of improvements
- Developing a multiphase deployment roadmap
- Delivering a final engagement report to business and IT leaders
With an ICoE, organisations can expect the following benefits:
- Accelerated project delivery time
- Operational and IT budget efficiencies by investing in technology solutions that serve multiple projects
- Lower maintenance costs
- Improved ROI through the creation and reuse of enterprise assets such as source definitions, application interfaces, and codified business rules
There is little doubt that more businesses and boardrooms have recognised the strategic imperative for enterprise integration. However, establishing a cohesive and connected organisation can be fraught with challenges and unforeseen risks. Successful enterprise integration demands an agile and scalable integration strategy driven by an Integration Center of Excellence (ICoE). This next generation of enterprise connectedness will yield innovative business outcomes and exponential growth while empowering leaders to make data-driven decisions in an increasingly volatile economy.
More in this series
FAQs about enterprise integration
This strategy will be most helpful to businesses that are grappling with the exponential growth of disparate applications and data. Often, this is due to the adoption of different cloud and on-premise solutions over time. Enterprise integration consolidates these unconnected components, with all applications using a common data model to work together in real time. This model approaches integration holistically and can serve businesses of all sizes.
Enterprise integration supports a range of recipients within the business and beyond:
- Leaders can leverage real-time data from across the organisation to make informed business decisions.
- Workers can be more productive using real-time data on demand, replacing manual, time-consuming processes.
- Customer experiences are enriched with faster, more satisfying outcomes.
- Partner and collaborator interactions with the business are seamless.
Integration platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) supports projects involving any number of cloud and on-premise endpoints, including APIs, mobile devices, and the Internet of Things (IoT). The model develops, deploys, executes, manages, and monitors integration processes and flows that connect multiple components so they can work together.
Although this model delivers integration within the enterprise, it does not support enterprise-class integration given its narrow scope and focus, which is typically applied to a single line of business.
Enterprise integration platform-as-a-service (EiPaaS) is a collection of iPaaS platforms that expands the overall capabilities of the integration project. To learn more about EiPaaS, read the Gartner report.
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