To more thoroughly understand the state of enterprise integration, and where it’s going, we interviewed 20 executives with diverse backgrounds and experience integrating technologies and databases for enterprise clients. Specifically, we spoke to:
- Asanka Abeysinghe, V.P. Solutions Architecture, WSO2
- James Jinnette, Director of Information Technology, unidentified CRO
- Zeev Avidan, V.P. Product Management, OpenLegacy
- Phil Manfredi, Aaron Sandeen, and Kiran Chinnagangannagari, Co-Founders, Zuggand
- Nishant Patel, CTO, and Matthew Baier, COO, Built.io
- Adam Fingerman, Chief Experience Officer, ArcTouch
- Jon Gelsey, CEO, Auth0
- Jon Bock, Vice President Products, Snowflake Computing
- Tyson Whitten, API Management Product Marketing, CA Technology
- Florent Solt, CTO, Netvibes
- Andrew Warfield, CTO and Co-Founder, Coho Data
- Mike Han, V.P. Operations, Liferay
- Sean Bowen, CEO, Push Technology
- Suchit Bachalli, President, Unilog
- Uri Sarid, CTO, Conor Curlett, Principal Architect, MuleSoft
- Gabe Stanek, Director of Field Engineering, Neo Technology
Here’s what we learned from the executives:
- There’s little agreement about the most important elements of enterprise integration; however, four themes emerged from the executives with whom we spoke:
- Data accessibility. It’s important to enable enterprises to access external data sources and integrate that data with internal sources. This requires unlocking data and making it accessible across the enterprise. We must be able to converge traditional enterprise data with large data stacks to solve business problems.
- API management. APIs in the cloud have accelerated enterprise integration projects from taking years to months. APIs are also driving alignment and integration across the enterprise to enable once siloed data to be integrated for analysis.
- Focus on simplicity. Make integration as seamless and simple as possible, since you will be adding more and more resources that need to talk with each other as the company sees the benefits of integration. The more the business sees, the more it will want.
- The integration platform must be secure, stable, and reliable. Extensibility is key as demand for more integration grows. Have a well-documented protocol so it’s easy to make changes and additions. Use templates, samples, and standardization to make changes as painless as possible. Also, consider a data structure that decouples everything—including the business logic from APIs—as this will accelerate integration and flow of data.
- The most important players in enterprise integration are clearly IBM and Oracle, as these two firms were mentioned more than twice as frequently as any other company. Both are recognized for their robust messaging middleware. MuleSoft was also mentioned as a major contributor to the open-source middleware space along with WSO2. Tibco was the only other company mentioned more than once. Other companies mentioned were AWS, Dell, EMC, HP, Layer7, Metadata, Microsoft, NetApp, SAP, and Snaplogic. Other than IBM and Oracle, enterprise integration providers are fragmented, and the market is competitive given all the money flowing into the space.
- Customers are the most frequently mentioned source for executives to stay abreast of what’s going on in the industry. This includes direct interaction with customers and prospects, fielding questions, and responding to requests for proposals. Analysts, like Gartner and Forrester, and social media, like Twitter, were the second most frequently mentioned sources of information. Other sources include conferences and events, consultants, peers, employees, universities, Flipboard, and Audible.com.
- The greatest value of enterprise integration is being seen in two areas: 1) legacy data able to be accessed to solve business problems; and 2) using data to improve the customer and employee experience. Giving employees access to legacy data fosters innovation and empowers employees to solve business problems themselves. Unlocking data can transform a business (e.g. Airbnb and Uber). Integration of previously siloed data enables people to make more intelligent decisions. At the same time, data can be used to improve the customer experience. By giving employees a 360-degree view of the customer, companies are able to make proactive recommendations, making customers’ lives simpler and easier. Social listening enables customer-facing employees to address customer concerns in a timely manner either in person or virtually via mobile devices.
- The skills that make someone good at enterprise integration are broad reaching. It starts with knowing the problem you’re trying to solve and then being able to identify the optimal technical solution. Superior performers also understand patterns, scenarios, web protocols, frameworks, and architectures. Problem-solving skills are beneficial, as is understanding the fundamental pain points the technology addresses. It also helps to have familiarity with the systems you are integrating (e.g. CRM, ERP, etc.). The most successful have the skill to see the “butterfly effect”—if I change this, here’s how it will affect my client and their customers.
- The confluence of APIs, the cloud, mobile, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are driving the evolution of enterprise integration. Unlike distributed computing, mobile and cloud have standards for interconnection. The shift to mobile and API platform services have centralized the work that needs to be done. APIs and integration are critical for IoT to achieve its projected growth levels. Everything is able to talk to everything else in the cloud, thanks much to RESTful design. The cloud has removed the need for much hardware infrastructure and funding. APIs have made everything faster, reduced costs, and increased speed to market. The data center can now reside solely in the cloud—though the pendulum may be swinging, as some companies prefer hybrid solutions where they have an on-premise appliance, with on-demand, “burst” needs met in the cloud. With all of the devices, connections, and APIs, we’re seeing a renaissance around messaging; however, this time it’s data rather than voice.
- Obstacles to success of enterprise integration projects at client sites seem to revolve around unrealistic expectations and the failure by vendors to do proper due diligence before proposing a solution. It’s critical for the vendor to understand the business problem they are solving and the potential for that problem—and solution—to scale over time. Understanding the business problem will help the vendor identify the optimal solution, versus a more complex solution than is necessary. Understanding the potential for scalability will ensure the vendor provides a solution that can scale to meet the client’s needs over time without latency becoming an issue. Some vendors are chasing the money over promising what they can deliver, or providing more complex, expensive solutions than are necessary. Hype can get in the way and create unrealistic expectations for clients. People have a tendency to focus on the short cycle times of Agile without considering the long-term implications of their decisions or the extensibility of the platform.
- The primary concern around enterprise integration is explosive complexity and extensibility. We must be conscientious of the data we’re collecting and sending, and ensure we are addressing a business purpose in doing so. Other concerns are companies that are building closed versus open solutions, as well as on-going concerns with security as more and more devices are brought to market. Failure to adhere to proven patterns and architectures will lead to short-cuts, which lead to security flaws. Lastly, moving the enterprise to the cloud is not as easy as it sounds—is it really in the business’s best interest to move their entire enterprise into the cloud, or is a hybrid solution more appropriate based on business needs?
- The future of enterprise integration appears to be centered around APIs and the ease of accessibility they promise in the cloud—whether it's robustness or steady accessibility. We are beginning to see the internet of APIs. This is driven by IoT and mobile, with mobile leading the charge right now and IoT on its heels. To ensure successful growth, we need to look for opportunities to standardize platforms that can scale and maintain security. Doing so will result in an improved employee and customer experience.
- The key advice for developers is to keep enterprise integration as simple as possible. Don’t try to “boil the ocean.” Focus on the business objective, know the business problem, know the business process, and make it as easy as possible for the business to understand and use. Know the user needs for the problem you’re solving—the needs of engineering are very different from those of finance or marketing. Know what middleware is available before you start writing code. Lastly, with regards to mobile, know the value of two bytes. This will add up to a lot of savings—of bandwidth and money—over the next few years.
The executives we spoke with are working on their own products or serving clients. We’re interested in hearing from developers, and other IT professionals, to see if these insights offer real value. Is it helpful to see what other companies are working on from a senior industry-level perspective? Do their insights resonate with what you’re experiencing at your firm?
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