By Carol Hildebrand
The prebuilt tools and connectors [in Oracle Integration Cloud Service] help companies more easily integrate cloud services as well as on-premises applications.
—Amit Zavery, Oracle Senior Vice President of Development, Integration Products
In the digital economy, integration is no longer a technology term—it’s a business imperative. After all, when your business strategy depends on how quickly you can analyze and act upon data, building a clear and consistent flow of information is more than just a lifestyle choice.
But it’s not simple. Information must move across myriad applications from mobile and cloud-based apps to on-premises systems. Add in factors like the explosive growth of the Internet of Things (Gartner predicts 30 billion devices by 2020), and it’s pretty safe to assume that integration requirements are only going to get more complex.
“As companies respond to demanding customer expectations and unprecedented changes in the competitive landscape, integration has become a priority on the business side as well as IT,” says Amit Zavery, Oracle’s senior vice president of development, integration products. “In fact, nearly 80 percent of respondents to a recent Computerworld survey rated ease of integration with external data and apps as a top priority.”
Unfortunately, integration woes consistently hinder digital transformation projects, particularly when it comes to the cloud. According to a recent study of more than 1,300 business leaders by Dynamic Markets, 81 percent of respondents think that cloud applications must be fully integrated with each other as well as with on-premises software in order to reap the full benefits of the cloud. But getting there is a greater problem. One out of two companies abandoned their cloud software as a service (SaaS) applications in the last three years due to integration problems.
Portion of respondents who rate ease of integration with external data and apps as a top priority.
Percentage of respondents who think cloud applications must be fully integrated in order to reap the full benefits of the cloud.
Number of companies that abandoned SaaS applications in the last three years due to integration problems.
“Companies have added a whole new level of software and systems and services on top of their pre-existing technology,” says Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director at cloud consultancy THINKstrategies.
“It complicates integration requirements right when companies are looking for easier, quicker methods," he adds.
What are the top challenges that companies face when they try to build a harmonious hybrid system? These are the big five:
In order to share and integrate information, companies need to discover and map where data lies throughout a company, from isolated departmental SaaS apps to enterprise ERP running financials, supply chain, and other back-end functions. “Data mapping is the most complex, time-consuming, and error-prone task in many integration projects,” says Zavery, “particularly for companies that lack a unified integration strategy.”
Cloud-based integration platforms like Oracle Integration Cloud Service are designed to simplify the process significantly, says Zavery. “The prebuilt tools and connectors help companies more easily integrate cloud services as well as on-premises applications.”
Taking a unified approach to data governance is vital to maintaining data integrity, says Kaplan. “Not all data and applications will shift to the cloud,” he says. “You need to have a set of policies around data governance that clearly lay out when and how you want to integrate cloud resources both to each other and to on-premises applications.”
Application programming interfaces (APIs) are sets of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications that make it possible for different applications to share data. But you can’t assume that every SaaS application will provide the API tools needed for integration. Each SaaS vendor and cloud provider enforces unique API frameworks, security standards, session management practices, and maintenance procedures, and what they provide varies widely. “Organizations need to be acutely aware of the kind of interfaces that applications in the cloud provide,” says Zavery. For example, API tools in many niche SaaS apps aren’t built for full integration—they don’t expose the full data model, or have limited operations.
“The truth is, APIs allow multiple vendor solutions to interoperate, but don’t necessarily ensure that data can be fully integrated,” says Kaplan. “You need a centralized layer to sit on top of the APIs.”
“There’s no question that increased access points and data integration can represent security vulnerabilities,” says Kaplan, and solving that problem isn’t easy. To start with, the underlying platform must have strong security layers embedded throughout the stack. On top of that, any integration services and tools must support security policies used by many applications, such as HTTP Basic or WS-Security-based authentication.
There’s no question that increased access points and data integration can represent security vulnerabilities.
—Jeffrey Kaplan, Managing Director, THINKstrategies
Finding people with the skills to implement many integration tools is also a problem. “There’s a lot of money being made by integrators, because many companies don’t have the right skills in-house,” says Kaplan. One step to solving the skills shortage is to use cloud integration services that cut down on the workload via ready-built connectors for many applications. Another solution is to establish a development environment that requires minimal configuration and zero coding—reducing the need for developer expertise.
While the discussion sounds technical, Zavery says that a poorly implemented integration strategy can devastate a business that loses the ability to react to unified data in real time. “For example, you won’t be able to gain visibility into what customers are buying, where products are in the supply chain, and when customers actually receive their shipments,” he points out.
In today’s always-on business climate, integration roadblocks can leave you out in the cold. Small wonder that companies are showing such a strong interest in Oracle Integration Cloud Service, a platform designed to simplify construction of a real-time information supply chain.