'Hey, Walmart, please use my API instead of your EDI'

Survey of 900 IT executives finds rising adoption of cloud-based integration; search is on for holistic approaches.

APIs are great, and deliver many, many capabilities both internally and over the open internet to round out applications, systems and data access. But they only can go so far in increasingly complex, multi-cloud, business-to-business or multi-vendor environments.

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

"You can't go to Walmart, and say, 'Listen, Walmart I'm done using EDI, it's just too costly for me, so just use my API," says Chris McNabb, CEO of Dell Boomi. At the recent Dell Boomi user conference in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to sit down with McNabb, who explained that a successful connectivity strategy in today's environment requires the flexibility to manage all the various types and formats of integration. Organizations seeking better integration between systems, applications and data need to develop a comprehensive enterprise strategy, he urges. Approaches of the recent past, such as service oriented architecture to abstract underlying connections into a common service layer, enterprise service buses to accomplish the same thing through a single broker, or current approaches such APIs are simply not enough, he states.

And yes, there are still many organizations using the same classic EDI protocols first developed in the 1970s.

"APIs don't solve human workflow, which is hard to do. Service endpoints do not an integration strategy make," McNabb adds. "You're never going to load a one-terabyte data file via a service endpoint, an API. You need to break it up in different batches, and run them concurrently. It would take you a really long time if you were going to single-thread."

Integration Platform as a service (iPaaS) may sound like a grandiose concept cooked up in the backrooms of some analyst firm, but it's a real and useful thing. iPaaS -- essentially a cloud-based integration broker -- has become a tangible and essential way to respond to the never-ending complexity of today's multi-cloud world and multi-system world.

A recent survey of 900 IT leaders, conducted by Vanson Bourne associates for Dell Boomi, finds of those who have integration solutions in place, 43% are iPaaS based. Another 43% intend to move to iPaaS in the near future. In addition, these IT executives see their integration strategy as having a direct effect on the business at large, potentially delivering millions of dollars in potential cost savings and revenue growth. The study found that the level of organizational connectivity is set to nearly double within a six-year period, and that organizations are adopting iPaaS technology as deployment of cloud applications continues to accelerate.

At the same time, the survey points to another shift -- a recognition that what happens in the IT department, and how successfully clouds and on-premises infrastructure can be brought together for a single view of the business, has a direct impact on the success of the business. It's no longer just an "IT thing."

Close to nine in 10 IT leaders see a direct connection between their integration efforts and the growth of their businesses, the survey finds. There's a cost-savings impact as well - to the tune of $3 million per organization, on average. Most agree that difficulties in pulling together all these disparate systems and data is costing their business. Two-thirds, 67%, feel they have missed business opportunities as a result of poor integration, and 59% even see poor integration as the an Achilles heel" for their organizations.

"As customers consumes and acquire more SaaS applications, it distributes data to all these siloes and breaks apart these business processes," McNabb says. "It breaks governance capabilities -- how do you set up a user across a landscape with 30 different systems by 30 different vendors? How do I manage changes to my data?" To tackle today's complexities, IT leaders need to look at the bigger picture, beyond mere integration. "It's no longer an integration problems anymore. It's a data management problem," says McNabb. "How do come up with data management and governance across this landscape? How do you ensure quality data across all these vendors?"

As top benefits, respondents cited improved productivity (73%), improved data accessibility (68%), more efficient workflows (57%), increased profitability (54%) and faster, more accurate decision-making (48%).

Respondents also cited other "crucial outcomes" of integration as the ability to improve operational efficiency (54%), be more responsive to customer needs (50%), enable faster innovation (48%), connect data and workflows for insights (46%) and validate and enrich data for better data quality (44%).

In addition, 89% of respondents agree that becoming a more connected business will help drive digital transformation within their organizations. Among those using iPaaS, 74% said it has made their organizations smarter, while 72% said faster.

From a technology perspective, respondents said that an integration solution should improve data integrity (61%), ensure information security (59%), offer end-to-end connectivity in a single platform (55%), accelerate workflow implementations (48%) and allow for faster innovation (46%).

(Disclosure: I was an invited guest at the Dell Boomi's user conference, which also assisted with travel expenses.)

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