Application Integration is defined as the process of:
- Keeping redundant copies of data (in independently designed applications) consistent, or
- Enabling end-users to access data and functionality from independently designed applications on a single user interface.
Basic Business Requirements for Application Integration
Application integration is often a difficult process, especially when integrating existing legacy applications with new applications or Web services. To meet the basic needs, the application environment should have a common interface for free communication, including the system’s ability to request Web services and be compatible when interfacing with other platforms and applications. Some of the basic business requirements include:
- Adequate connectivity between platforms
- Business rules and data transformation logic
- The longevity of business processes
- Flexibility of business processes
- Flexibility of hardware, software, and business goals
Who needs Application Integration?
Most businesses employ the use of enterprise applications such as supply chain management (SCM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), or customer relationship management (CRM). When business processes all filter through these large applications, everything works smoothly. But these applications do not always offer the most innovative solution to a common business problem. Cloud and mobile applications often offer an easier way for employees to do certain aspects of their jobs, and when this happens, the organization must create integrations between the old and the new.
Levels of Applications Integration
There are four different levels of application integration.
- Presentation: At the presentation level, integration is achieved by presenting several different applications as a single application with a common user interface (UI). Also known as “screen scraping,” this older approach to integration involves using middleware technology to collect the information that a user enters into a web page or some other user interface. Presentation-level integration was previously used to integrate applications that could not otherwise be connected, but applications integration technology has since evolved and become more sophisticated, making this approach less prevalent.
- Business Proces Integration: With business process integration, the logical processes required by an enterprise to conduct its business are mapped onto its IT assets, which often reside in different parts of the enterprise and increasingly, the cloud. By identifying individual actions in a workflow and approaching their IT assets as a meta-system (i.e. a system of systems), enterprises can use applications integration to define how individual applications will interact in order to automate crucial business processes, resulting in the faster delivery of goods and services to customers, reduced chances for human error, and lower operational costs.
- Data Integration: Aside from business process integration, data integration is also required for successful application integration. If an application can’t exchange and understand data from another application, inconsistencies can arise and business processes become less efficient. Data integration is achieved by either writing code that enables each application to understand data from other applications in the enterprise or by making use of an intermediate data format that can be interpreted by both sender and receiver applications. The latter approach is preferable over the former since it scales better as enterprise systems grow in size and complexity. In both cases, access, interpretation, and data transformation are important capabilities for successfully integrating data.
- Communications-Level Integration: Underlying business process and data integration are communications-level integration. This refers to how different applications within an enterprise talk to each other, either through file transfer, request/reply methods, or messaging. In many cases, applications weren’t designed to communicate with each other, requiring technologies for enabling such communication. These include Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which specify how applications can be called, and connectors that act as intermediaries between applications. At the communications level, it is also important to consider the architecture of interactions between applications, which can be integrated according to a point-to-point model, hub-and-spoke approach, or with an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB).
Application Integration Vs. Data Integration
What is the difference between data integration and application integration, and why is the difference important for companies that are considering moving to the cloud? Data integration has been around for a while, but application integration is a relative newcomer with different, more complex challenges. Data integration is the process of combining information from two different sources so that a user has a unified view of the data. The process is often performed with an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, or for a data warehouse. An ERP frequently involves taking data out of specialized line-of-business applications and combining it with existing information, such as sales orders and inventory data; for a data warehouse, it’s the process of extracting, converting, and uploading data from a variety of sources into the data warehouse database for review and analysis. Data integration is not necessarily conducted in real-time, although the insatiable appetite in enterprises for more and more data is certainly driving up demand for real-time integration. This does not mean that data integration is a simple, boring operation that’s been around for so long that it’s no longer an issue, or even very interesting. In fact, when it’s done right, data integration achieves four objectives:
- standardizes data,
- provides data portability,
- eliminates redundancy,
- ensures data quality.
Application integration, on the other hand, directly links different applications at a functional level. It is very much a real-time sharing of information between online transaction processing systems and requires some sort of enterprise application integration (EAI) middleware that enables different applications to communicate quickly and easily with each other. Application integration often actively manages the flow of information between applications, often via an application programming interface (API). This can become even more complicated when integrating on-premises legacy systems with newer, cloud-based services. The difference between data and application integration is important when evaluating integration solutions – especially solutions for on-premises and cloud-based services integration. The different types of integration can require different sets of platforms and methodologies. While data integration is about combining data sets from multiple sources, application integration transforms and transports data from one application to another.
Benefits of Application Integration
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 a variety of systems and workflows to support efficiency and automation. The ability to reuse 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 a 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.
Challenges to Application Integration
- An application has varied and multiple integration points
- An application has many complex data relationships that need to be established and maintained
- An integration process has workflow requirements
- An application relies on the validation and standardization of input data
- Managing application integration requires robust error reporting and error management
- The integration process needs to interact with the application (or a surrogate to the application) at run-time
- An application is highly configurable and dynamic
- Defining Application Integration Gartner
- What are the Basic Business Requirements for Application Integration? Techopedia
- Who needs Application Integration? Informatica
- What are The Different Levels of Applications Integration? Mulesoft
- What is the difference between data integration and application integration Flowgear
- What are the Benefits of Application Integration? Cleo
- The Seven Hidden Challenges of Application Integration Scribe