Self-service approach is getting increasingly widely accepted in different IT areas. It is also quite a broad topic in itself, and we’ve already touched upon it in one of our recent articles on system integrators, namely The Impact of Digitization on Traditional System Integrators’ Business Model. In this blog post I would like to give it another perspective, namely from the space of application and data integration in SMBs and enterprise companies.
In particular, I would like to highlight two relatively recently emerged requirements for data and application integration tools. Here, self-service approach can be found in two quite opposite scenarios: on the IT side and the non-IT side, among line-of-business users. For both, a new set of integration capabilities is required.
Another fascinating application of self-service can be found in agile organizations. In this area, it’s all about giving IT teams working in agile environment the complete freedom to use tools they want and need, as long as these tools help them hit their goals. But as this scenario needs a bit more investigation, this will be covered in more details in one of subsequent articles.
Self-Service Integration Development in IT
The demand for self-service data integration, which includes all things around its preparation (like visualization, exploration, even monitoring), is not really new and has been already acknowledged by many integration specialists. As a result, data and application integration tools has become more user-friendly, providing more functionality to handle data load, transformation, and processing on one’s own, as well as ways to debug errors without external help.
In other words, the concept of integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) has emerged.
Nowadays it is considered an industry standard that iPaaS vendors offer preconfigured connectors, or adaptors, for various cloud and on-premise systems, e.g. for ERP like Dynamics Navision or SAP ByDesign, or CRM like Sugar or Salesforce. Such connectors are supposed to empower integration experts to set up integration workflows much faster and easier compared to standard in-house integration efforts.
It is not unusual, though, that provided integration adaptors miss certain specific business logic; after all, these are often standardized connectors that are, by definition, simply cannot embrace absolutely all data integration scenarios.
Naturally, it is possible to request a customized adaptor from iPaaS vendor or re-write the existing one. However, the first solution produces extra costs, while the second one, if available to a developer at all, often doesn’t work quite the way it is expected because of mediocre quality of features that handle jobs migration from one environment to another.
Integration Adapter Templates and SDKs
In this light, some iPaaS providers started offering integration connectors as connector templates, available for further configurations and adjustments. What this means is that integration developers receive an easy access to connectors’ source code and get equipped by the provider with the necessary tools and workflow for developing, testing and putting modified connectors on production without excessively much manual work.
In addition to that, the massive variety of applications available to businesses leads to an increased demand for easy-to-use, self-service tools for integration specialists, so that they can build their own integration connectors. Preferably, with support for several programming languages, although in our experience, the currently most popular one is Node.js.
Of course, it stands to reason that such Software Development Kits (SDKs) should enable easy development, testing and production of new connectors, just like in the case with modifying the already existing connectors.
The above-described capabilities, by the way, benefit not only the integration specialists, who take care of mission-critical projects, but also other IT players like ad hoc integrators: These capabilities help with rapid-development projects that might have a short lifespan, but are necessary nonetheless.
Self-Service Integration Marketplaces for non-IT
Most analysts nowadays agree on the fact that modern iPaaS offerings should include self-service integration capabilities for non-IT professionals, sometimes also called citizen integrators.
I am aware of the fact that central IT is generally not happy about the idea of letting line-of-business (LOB) users develop and deploy integrations on their own. But let’s face it: There are enough third-party automation tools on the market that provide few-clicks integrations between most popular LOB tools, and all bets are on the fact that non-IT users are already taking full advantage of those. In fact, no bets are needed; just visit one of the online software review platforms to see it for yourself.
The main reason behind this trend is because, on the one hand, modern LOB users are more digitally savvy than they used to be. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they know how to code, but SaaS offerings are in 99 per cent of cases very easy to implement and use without any coding skills.
On the other hand, most businesses undergoing digital transformation need to make information from applications and IT systems available to every line of business across the organization, sometimes even to outside organizations in B2B scenarios. And what’s crucial, they need to do this fast, whereas it still takes central IT two-three months on average to add a new software application to the existing IT estate.
Ready-to-use Integration Solutions
In reaction to this trend, it is important for IT to implement integration tools offerings that will allow them to set up easy-to-use integration marketplaces for LOB users. Such a marketplace would provide connectors to company’s applications and systems mapping the business logic and allow for an easy configuration and setup.
I must admit, I personally don’t know any not IT-oriented company that has already implemented this concept. But I know a system integrator who did just that. Apora, a Netherlands-based system integrator, has been implementing Zoho solutions for about six years and recently partnered with Oracle to provide implementation and integration for its Oracle Sales Cloud. The company channeled its many years of experience with system integration into self-service integration packages under the umbrella of its daughter company Aplynk, offering them as part of a self-service integration marketplace. Although the target group is different (Apora targets SMB’s with its new product, whereas in this article we’re talking about LOB users at larger companies), the general idea is the same.
Of course, any innovation of such kind requires a certain amount of investment (both time- and money-wise). But it will pay off in the long run. Even though such self-service approach for non-IT users probably won’t decrease the overall number of integration projects, it will take some good portion of work off of IT’s shoulders, thus helping contain costs (an increase of IT staffing won’t be necessary anymore) and maintain visibility and control over data.
And the good thing is that line-of-business users will continue doing what they have been doing already, namely self-service integration, but this way using company’s own tools instead of third-party services, without the risk of exposing sensitive information to someone who is not supposed to find it.