An Integration Team of One: Q&A with Community Champion, Leif Jacobsen

14 minute read | 30 Jul 2018
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By Boomi

The Boomi Community is the hub of our relationship with customers. It’s where they find answers to their questions, learn how to get the most from the Boomi platform, and engage with peers to understand the best approaches to their integration challenges.

The heart of the Boomi Community is its members. Throughout the year, we recognize the most active and helpful individuals in this group. These leaders set the standard for how Community members can contribute and cultivate a rich conversation that helps everyone become better at integration.

We call these people Community Champions. They are remarkable in their commitment to making the Community the best possible resource for integration professionals.

Our latest Champion, Leif Jacobsen, is one of the most active participants in the Community. Contributors like Jacobsen make the Boomi Community a vital resource for customers looking for more information on our low-code, cloud-native platform.

Jacobsen, like many integration professionals, is self-taught. He’s the sole integration architect at his company so his accomplishments have been hard won.

We recently spoke with Jacobsen about his involvement in the Boomi Community, his path to expertise with integration, and his advice for others about how to approach their integration projects.

How did you get started in the “crazy world of integration?” What were you doing when you first got involved with integration projects?

Leif Jacobsen: About 10 years ago I was part of an SAP integration project at my company, Dagrofa. We supply supermarkets all over Denmark with fresh and frozen fruits, dry goods…everything that a supermarket needs. We are one of the 25 biggest companies in Denmark.

We needed to replace our existing mainframe system, and I ran across a couple of external consultants who used the SAP process integration. I thought what they were able to do was amazing. So, I asked my manager if I could take some courses.

That’s how I got started. Later my manager told me that they’d bought Boomi’s integration platform. He wanted me to figure out how to use it and see if we could use it for some process integrations. That was my introduction to Boomi and that’s all I’ve done for the past two years — Boomi integrations.=

How did you start working with the Boomi integration platform?

Leif Jacobsen: My company chose Boomi because it needed to shrink development time. It takes a long time to do process integrations in SAP. The company needed something faster. It found Boomi, and right away we could see it provided a much different approach to building integrations.

I learned Boomi very quickly. I had the first deployment to the production system in three days. It was a simple process. But if I’d been asked to do it with SAP integration, I probably wouldn’t have anything deployed yet.

With Boomi, integration design is intuitive. “I do this shape; then I do this. And suddenly I have a comma separated file I can email anywhere.” That is great.

Tell us about your early background. When did you start with Dagrofa?

Leif Jacobsen: I started 21 years ago as a warehouse worker and I took a lot of IT courses in those early years. Seventeen years ago, I came into the IT department to help build our warehouse management system. Then I began doing integrations between SAP and our vendors, suppliers and distribution centers. A lot of logistics: ordering and integrating data from SAP to our warehouse management system.

What kind of projects have you done with Boomi?

Leif Jacobsen: With Boomi, I have done an integration from GS1 Tradesync master data pool, where vendors put their master data into the GS1 system and GS1 sends the data to us. I’ve done a rather complex integration to get the data into our Oracle master data environment. That was very complex. It’s a very big XML file. It needs some XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation) and a lot of other scripting.

I’ve also done some integration projects in the payroll system to a staff management system. That was complex because there was a requirement to output several log files to Google Sheet during the processes. And the error handling was also complicated.

We also do reporting through Boomi, where users can send email to Boomi and order different reports from the staff management system or our Oracle system. I’ve created processes to compare data between Oracle and SAP to ensure the data is the same and compliant.

I’ve done Google pub/sub integrations, which were very complex until Boomi introduced the pub/sub connector in May or June of last year. Before that, we needed to use the HTTP connector, but the pub/sub connector has made it much simpler. (The Google pub/sub Connector allows users to interact with Google’s cloud messaging/queuing service.)

How large is the integration team at Dagrofa? And how many people work in IT overall?

Leif Jacobsen: I’m the only one, the lone wolf. We’ve had some external consultants help us, but other than that, I have done all the integrations myself. I’m always busy. The entire IT group is 50 people, plus 10 to 15 external consultants.

As one person doing all the integration for one of Denmark’s largest companies, how do you manage all your integration projects?

Leif Jacobsen: Well, when you have Boomi and its potential to speed development, you can develop new integrations very quickly. Then you don’t need anyone else.

With SAP, every time someone asked for an integration, the assumption was that it would take two or three weeks, or a month. But I can do it in two or three days with Boomi. Sometimes, in two or three hours. People are constantly impressed.

Boomi is really fast compared to what we were used to. But I just listen to what is needed. What is the purpose; what is the source; what is the destination? I figure out what should happen during the process — whether there’s any error handling needed and how complex. And I’m done. I can quickly move on to the next project. That’s what keeps me working with Boomi.

What’s your favorite part about working as an integration architect?

Leif Jacobsen: I just like to connect systems. To do this magic between two or three or even more systems. Here comes data from a source system, transform it and do all the things you need to do. I find it extremely interesting. It’s just great to work with integrations.

Sometimes I tell people I feel like I’m playing Sudoku all day. I get this puzzle and I just need to get the pieces to match. That’s the way I feel with Boomi. And, with the very, very fast development time, it’s rare that I work on something for more than a few days before I deliver whatever is needed.

How many integrations or processes do you have running?

Leif Jacobsen: Around 50. There are Boomi Atoms at all our stores where we have integration processes. We have something we call the main Atom, and it sends files to the different stores. That could be master data assortment files, which the Atoms at the stores receive and save locally on their store server.

We have 450 stores right now. Of those, 130 have Atoms. And soon another 200 will have Atoms. When we’re finished all the stores will have Atoms running just a few processes — Google pub/sub processes and some other minor processes.

The processes we’re running on the store Atoms are not critical. So, if there’s an error, I use the Boomi event log and I have a process running each morning to collect all the events over the last 24 hours. I get a daily Google Sheet of the events that occurred in each Atom. Some don’t require any action and others I need to look into, like a corrupted file.

How did the Boomi Community help you become a better integration architect?

Leif Jacobsen: I think I started using the Community like everyone else. I posted a few questions in the Community and people helped me and that was great. And I never thought about it again.

Then, 8 or 10 months ago, I was in the Community looking for the answer to a problem and I stumbled on a question and thought, “Wow, I’ve been messing with this and I could probably answer it.”

People were so grateful that I answered their questions — in some cases issues they’d been trying to solve for days. Then I answered more questions and, suddenly, I had a hobby.

I like to help people. And sometimes I get a comment from another Community member saying, “That’s not the smartest way to do it, try this.” And it turns out to be a smarter way and I’ve learned something. I learn a lot that way.

You could say when we comment on each other’s answers, we find the best practice on how to do something. Otherwise, you just sit at your company and tell yourself, “I have the best practice.” But through the Community, you can confirm whether you have the best practice or not.

So, that’s why I spend a lot of time in the Community. I like reading answers from other members on all kinds of questions. But the objective is to help people and I like getting comments back because I don’t have the right answers all the time.

Everyone in the Community is very polite even though your answer may not be the best. I really like that. Otherwise, I wouldn’t take part. I’ve gotten a lot of help from the Community, so you could say I’m paying back what I received from others.

Have you experienced any particular challenges where you received helpful advice from the Community?

Leif Jacobsen: I received help on how to use XSLT and processors, which I use a lot in my processes. How to write files to the Google Sheet, that was a major help. Also, how to use a Business Rules shape — that took me really a long time to figure out. (The Business Rules shape serves as a powerful alternative to the Decision shape because it can store multiple rules and conditions.)

The HTTP connector I’ve also had help with. I’m not a programmer at all. I do program a little bit, but not enough to do it just like that. So, the Community has helped me a lot.

Do you have any suggestions for ways to improve the Community?

Leif Jacobsen: It would be nice to have a direct chat function, so you could ask someone a direct question if you needed more details to help them. Just like you have on LinkedIn. Real-time chat.

You were at Boomi World London this year. What did you think of the event?

Leif Jacobsen: I love being at these events, especially because there are other Community members there. Meeting them at the different sessions at Boomi World London was very, very good. It was great. I was very surprised that we were mentioned in the Community session. I hope to join you in Las Vegas, but need approval for that.

How about some best practice tips or general advice about how to approach integration projects, especially for someone just getting started.

Leif Jacobsen: The whole philosophy of Boomi is “keep it simple”. And that’s the basic approach. Keep everything simple. And you have many options to do so if you’re careful.

So, my advice to people who need to manage integration projects would be to have someone administer the folder structure and the builds, that’s important, and have a clear naming convention for the different components.

Everyone in Dagrofa has been very surprised by the fast development time. And we have been good at taking advantage of Boomi’s speed. There’s also the advantage of reusing components. You can reuse a lot if you keep things simple.

What’s the key to ensuring you have reusable components?

Leif Jacobsen: You need an overview of a process to see that its output is exactly the same as another process you just created. So, take the other process and reuse the process calls and process routes.

I have done a lot of things where I realized I could have reused some components and never thought about it before I saw this option. The process route is a very, very strong feature. That’s the one I use to reuse components.

My only other advice is to take online courses; then play and learn. That’s the best way of learning things. Nothing can be broken by exploring and every time you use the tool, you learn a little bit more. Just get started.

How do you see the role of integration changing or evolving over the next five years?

Leif Jacobsen: I think the major change will be that we’ll be able to develop integrations even faster than we can today. A lot of companies have an approach where they only deploy something every three or six months. But if you can do integration processes in a matter of hours, that’s a very long time to wait before you deploy a process.

Companies must acknowledge that they need to be faster, and they can be. The world will only go faster and that will be a great revolution, which we are in the middle of.

As Boomi develops, their monthly updates help us do things smarter and better — and faster. Like the Google pub/sub connector. It was very hard to do through the HTTP connector. Very complex. But with the pub/sub connector, we can do it in no time. That’s the way you add tools to the toolbox. And you get amazing ideas from the community members. So, you continue to constantly improve.

If you enjoyed reading about Leif Jacobsen’s professional experience as an integration architect, please check out our other Community Champion profiles on Hari BonalaSeth Duda, Sjaak Overgaauw, Siri Vangari and John Moore.

To learn more about Boomi’s low-code, cloud-native iPaaS technology, please contact our experts today.