Imagine watching a musical at a theater where no one understands how their parts fit within the larger production. Nobody is standing in the right place. Everyone keeps talking over one another, or there are long, awkward silences. The musicians in the orchestra are playing at the wrong moments. It’s complete chaos, and it’s difficult to watch.
Modern business operations can be similar – especially for large enterprises. Getting the applications that run our businesses to work collaboratively and improve each other’s performance is difficult. Like in the theater, you need a “director” that gets every system to play well together.
That’s the role of application integration.
Organizations require uninterrupted data flow and effective communication throughout a technology ecosystem of diverse applications. Any dissonance between these apps can result in missed opportunities, inefficiencies, and financial loss. Keep reading to learn how integration can harmonize business operations and improve efficiency.
What Is Application Integration?
Application integration is the process of enabling separate software applications to work in unison. Because companies today often leverage hundreds of applications ranging from cloud solutions to on-premise legacy systems, making these systems “talk” to each other is crucial.
By facilitating smooth communication and data flows between different applications, integration allows processes to run seamlessly. It bridges platform gaps, allowing real-time data sharing and process automation. This interoperability boosts efficiency and provides more complete insights for more thoughtful decision-making.
While the ultimate goal of integration is connectivity, the means to achieve it can vary. Native integrations connect two specific applications. They are pre-made and often plug-and-play. Conversely, application programming interfaces (APIs) provide a more flexible approach.
APIs act as intermediaries, enabling one software platform to send or retrieve data from another. APIs can be custom-built and offer the versatility required to integrate many applications, although with a more hands-on approach than native integrations.
Methods of Application Integration
There are two main methods for integrating applications: manual coding and middleware solutions.
This traditional approach involves point-to-point coding, essentially scripting direct interactions between two or more software systems. Developers draft code that establishes connections, facilitates data exchange, handles error conditions, and manages other intricate functionalities to promote smooth interoperability.
Manual coding necessitates a robust understanding of all involved systems’ languages, platforms, and architectures. It requires specialized coding expertise. Given that each connection must be made individually, it can be time-intensive, especially when integrating multiple systems or when frequent changes occur.
Middleware is an intermediary layer offering tools and services to facilitate application integration. Many middleware solutions are designed with user experience in mind – even individuals with limited coding knowledge can set up and manage integrations.
It’s also inherently more scalable than manual coding. Integrating new applications becomes more straightforward without reinventing the wheel every time new applications are added or subtracted from an organization’s tech stack. Middleware abstracts much of the underlying complexity, offering standardized ways to integrate different applications.
Boomi’s intelligent integration and automation platform is the next step beyond traditional, legacy middleware. It allows users to seamlessly integrate applications and automate workflows wherever they are – on-premises or in the cloud. With Boomi, organizations can take advantage of a vast library of pre-built application connectors and see up to 65% faster connectivity. This speed and ease of use empower your business to unlock new value and greater efficiency within modern, hybrid technology architectures.
Benefits of Application Integration
When applications operate in isolation, they hinder data accuracy, customer experience, process automation, and real-time insights. Application integration does this by eliminating data silos so all systems can work together for the greater benefit to your organization.
Higher Data Accuracy
Without integration, each application is a separate entity, disconnected from the larger system. This siloed nature means that any change or update in one system will not be automatically reflected in others, leading to data discrepancies throughout the business. So, data must be manually entered or updated in multiple systems. This is highly time-consuming and dramatically increases the chances of errors.
Application integration eliminates siloes and ensures all systems draw from and update a centralized data repository. It guarantees uniformity and consistency of data across different systems, including critical information like inventory, sales, and customer information. Integration also enables automatic synchronization, reducing redundant entries and promoting greater data quality to fuel decision-making.
Improved Customer Experience
Customers may update their address on the company website but still receive communication through their old address from the support team. These types of discrepancies are common in isolated systems. Integrating applications provides customers with a consistent and unified experience across all touchpoints.
Repetitive tasks like data entry waste valuable time and divert resources from more strategic initiatives. Integrated applications can automate these routine tasks, freeing staff for more productive endeavors.
In addition to automating manual tasks, integration allows users to set up events and triggers. For instance, once a sale occurs on an ecommerce platform, it can automatically update the inventory in the backend system, trigger invoice generation, and notify the shipping department, all without human intervention.
Application integration allows data from various departments and functions to synchronize quickly. Every stakeholder can access up-to-date information without delays in sales, customer support, finance, or operations.
Even more importantly, real-time access to integrated data empowers decision-makers. Managers and executives can make better decisions quickly with a holistic view of the company’s operations.
Common Challenges With Application Integration
Despite its benefits, integrating applications can be challenging, especially when connecting older systems with newer applications. These legacy systems, designed for on-premises environments, may have outdated architectures or data formats not compatible with modern software, requiring additional work to bridge the gap.
Another issue that businesses often encounter when attempting to integrate applications includes limited scalability. Manual coding can be inflexible and difficult to scale as business grows. Over time, manually-coded solutions can become error-prone and hard to maintain.
However, by incorporating quality integration solutions, companies can more easily scale and adapt as needed. For this reason, they’re typically the preferred choice for ensuring longevity and adaptability in integrated systems.
Use Cases For Application Integration
Application integration can be applied in many contexts. Here are some examples of how it’s used to transform industries.
Integration allows healthcare systems – like hospital management systems, billing platforms, and electronic health records (EHRs) – to communicate seamlessly. This means a patient’s health records can be automatically updated across different platforms, increasing accuracy, consistency, and speed.
Application integration also allows medical devices to send data directly to EHR systems. This reduces manual input errors and allows clinicians to receive real-time data.
Banks often integrate their systems with third-party financial institutions’ systems for smoother interbank transfers, facilitating processes like wire transfers.
Financial institutions use multiple tools for transactions and customer management, and integration ensures that data is accessible for comprehensive financial reporting.
Integration between point-of-sale (POS) systems and inventory management tools ensures inventory levels immediately reflect each sale. This minimizes stockouts and overstock situations.
In an omnichannel retail environment, integrating e-commerce platforms with brick-and-mortar store systems, provides a seamless shopping experience for customers. This results in more consistent pricing and stock availability.
Integrating suppliers’ systems with those of manufacturers enables real-time tracking of raw materials. This aids in just-in-time manufacturing and reduces inventory holding costs.
Manufacturers can even integrate IoT sensors on machinery with predictive maintenance tools and more easily predict machine failure.
HR teams integrate time-tracking solutions with payroll systems to automatically calculate pay based on hours worked, overtime, leaves, and other variables.
Some integrate onboarding software with training platforms and HRMS, giving new hires a more seamless induction experience.
Boomi’s platform caters to multiple industries, including sales and HR, and helps businesses quickly connect applications with pre-built integrations.
Learn how one global IT vendor was able to integrate 2x faster with Boomi and how your organization can see similar success with our industry-tailored solutions.