Digital Integration Platforms: What are they and why should I care?

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Digital Integration Platforms enable teams to work together to design, deploy, operate, monitor and change integration software services that connect business applications, data sources and other software platforms – wherever they may be hosted. Digital Integration Platforms are delivered as-a-service, licensed on a subscription basis and priced according to usage. Is a Digital Integration Platform a good fit for your organisation?

Top takeaways

Digital Integration Platforms use an established technology core…

Digital Integration Platforms enable teams to work together to design, deploy, operate, monitor and change integration software services that connect business applications, data sources and other software platforms – wherever they may be hosted.

The basic fundamentals of Digital Integrations Platforms’ core capabilities are not at all new: they borrow heavily from Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) tools, Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) products and Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) tools.

But they reflect new realities…

As endpoints proliferate and as business and technology change cycles continue to accelerate, a new kind of integration platform approach is vital. Integration of systems, applications, platforms and data sources needs to be far cheaper, easier and quicker than before. Yesterday’s high-cost, difficult-to-use platforms are naturally subject to tight control within enterprises. This is where Digital Integration Platforms come in.

… and they help organisations deal with today’s integration demands

Although the core functional capabilities of Digital Integration Platforms are similar to those of yesterday’s integration tools, they differ (to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the provider in question) from those older technologies in terms of four key characteristics: speed, simplicity, abstraction and openness.

Because of this, they offer a compelling way for business teams to solve integration and automation challenges that may otherwise remain unaddressed. Today’s emerging Digital Integration Platforms are the natural successors to yesterday’s more heavyweight, expensive integration tools.

What are Digital Integration Platforms?

Integration… the never-ending challenge

Ever since organisations have been able to freely invest in information technology, they’ve needed to transfer information between systems. For many years, batch file transfer was the dominant method of shifting digital data from one place to another; then, as datasets became larger and the effectiveness of ‘batch processing windows’ shrank, more real-time approaches to system co-ordination, based on messaging protocols, became increasingly popular. Increasing openness of system architectures in the 1980s and 1990s enabled distributed systems to call each other’s functions.

Today’s business environments and expectations are now fundamentally enabled by and intertwined with IT capabilities. Business is now ‘always-on’ to such an extent that it seems odd, or even absurd, to consider situations where there’s no need to rapidly co-ordinate the actions of sales, marketing, operations and customer service systems – to build integration bridges between CRM and ERP systems, for example.

Legacy systems have been with us for decades, and indeed the definition of what counts as ‘legacy’ seems to broaden every year. Few investments in yesterday’s technologies have in fact gone away, despite the best efforts of an industry constantly highlighting their deficiencies. Software systems continue to multiply. Partly, this is about business entropy; whether it’s because of mergers and acquisitions, or through the never-ending march of tactical business software applications to support new product lines, new promotional strategies or new communications channels. The supply of legacy systems for many large organisations in particular seems inexhaustible – and so integration continues to be front-and-centre as a technology capability with strategic importance.

New frontiers for integration

In the past five years, a new wave of platform and application endpoints has created a new wave of demand for technology integration – driven primarily by investments in mobile application platforms and software-as-a-service properties from the likes of Salesforce, Workday, NetSuite and more.

In particular, easy-to-acquire, easy-to-use SaaS applications (primarily to support sales and marketing activities, but not exclusively so) are creating new centres of gravity for technology spending, and in these centres, ‘standard’ IT concerns (relating to security, integration, data quality, compliance and so on) are easily, even if not deliberately, overlooked.

We need new capabilities to meet new integration demands

In pure functional complexity terms, the integration challenge created by this new wave of investment is less severe than the challenges created by the e-commerce investment wave of the early 2000s and the client-server investment wave of the mid-1990s. For one thing: new mobile application platforms and SaaS offerings typically ship with well-documented APIs that build on open standard communications protocols and easy-to-handle message formats. When integrating these assets, today’s integration platforms don’t typically need to bundle proprietary protocol adapters.

However at the same time, the broader requirement is more challenging.


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