Connecting the Dots (or the Apps) is Enterprise’s Software Challenge
It’s not just in the business world where technology is pretty much omnipresent. Even the most recalcitrant of technophobes is beginning to come to terms with the fact that, in many cases, using technology instead of more old-fashioned methods of communication or interaction (like paper) is easier.
For instance, travel in many areas of the world now relies on passengers deploying some form of tech – usually an app on their phones – to purchase tickets, get boarding passes, see timetables, and receive second-by-second timetable updates.
As a result, most people are now au fait with technology to the extent that everyday use is standard; and modern GUIs remove any reliance on understanding and parsing the highly complex underpinnings of solutions.
In the business world, the ubiquity of technology outside the workplace now means that even small working groups tasked with a simple task are both capable and happy to spin up a piece of software to help achieve goals more quickly and efficiently. Solutions may be freemium, SaaS-based, mobile or desktop – the fact is that technology is now so interwoven into the fabric of work & private lives that its use is second nature.
IT departments have morphed as a result: no longer bodies which impose rigid strictures on what can and can’t operate on the enterprise’s networks (within reason), but rather functionaries who empower and interconnect.
There are still some areas in an organization where the use of technology needs careful monitoring. In Finance & HR departments, for example, strict data regulations mean that certain governances need to be adhered to.
Additionally, there’s the issue of legacy systems. Technologies which run the enterprise (such as ERP) become firmly bedded-in after significant investment by the business. These cannot simply be torn down and replaced at will, as newer (and shinier) alternatives swing into view. New tech needs to work alongside, and integrate with, what’s already there and what’s often become mission-critical.
There’s a whole market now for integration solutions; pieces of software, either for local, bare-metal installation or cloud-based iPaaS solutions (integration platform as a service) which aims to enable all the deployed technology to interface and collaborate.
Without solutions which integrate, data in the organization can quickly become silo-ed; that is, each division, department, or even separate working group can collate and work from its own data.
When it comes time to move that data to another system (such as into a CRM, or NetSuite database, for example), then the porting of data is a manual and troublesome process. In the worst cases, the savings gained by using an exciting, new disruptive SaaS solution can be lost: double- or triple-entry of the same data becomes a terrible time-drain.
As well as those personnel involved in data replication effectively wasting time disseminating data between systems, management strata also lose the opportunity to get a clear overview of the company’s activities. Silo-ed data is challenging to homogenize (even if it can be located and retrieved) and therefore cannot give clear data-driven business intelligence, for instance.
Many enterprises, therefore, have turned to their own internal IT teams, to create data interchange and interconnection systems that allow seamless data movements, from one silo (or app) to another.
However, many have found progress to be slow and complicated. Unpicking the intricacies of dozens of systems’ APIs is not for the faint-hearted, and requires healthy portions of patience and deep pockets.
The irony is that the systems which many enterprises use are the same as their competitors’. While there’s no such thing as a “household name” in most business technology markets, certain brands and solutions do crop up more often than many. Salesforce, SAP, NetSuite, Google Docs, Sage, Quickbooks – these are packages and services which could be defined as “common,” at least.
However, if many development teams are working on the same integrations (for instance, between WordPress and SAP), why are enterprises wasting effort & resources on developing their own integration solutions? Surely it’s wise to deploy one of the solutions on the market (see three examples below) which come with pre-built integrations?
Here at TechHQ, we’ve considered three suppliers of such integration/interconnection systems. Each differs in its deployment model, the purpose for which it’s designed and overall effectiveness.
Celigo is a cloud-based iPaaS which as its own deployment model suggests, is very much at home providing an overarching structure for data interchange between systems based on public & private clouds, as well as being able to reach back into the data center to join up the solutions based there.
Out of the box, Celigo comes with many hundreds of apps already catered for through application adapters that accelerate the time to integration, as well as prebuilt SmartConnectors. This is plug-and-play, or iPaaS 2.0, as the company terms it. The iPaaS and the prebuilt SmartConnector apps can be used by multiple users with no licensing issues: customers pay per-connector. This means that it is possible to purchase the number of flows you need, regardless of the number of applications these flows are connecting to.
Drawing up automated workflows is simplicity itself, with even highly complex APIs navigated simply and quickly: attaching to NetSuite instances, for example, are a breeze; for our tests, the software felt very intelligent, almost seeming to know how we wanted our systems integrated even before we did!
Of course, this ease of use is nothing if things go wrong. It’s reassuring to know, therefore, that as the prebuilt SmartConnectors are fully-managed integration SaaS apps, if (or rather, when) when the mighty Salesforces of the world release software updates, the APIs don’t break: Celigo’s engineers are on hand to make running repairs in order that the company’s many thousands of clients don’t suffer from connectivity loss.
You can read more about Celigo’s particular offerings here.
Zapier presents initially as an IFTTT variant (if-this-then-that) taken up several levels: but despite its ease of use for even novices, its true power is waiting as users gain experience.
In the Zapier vernacular, data interchanges are known as “Zaps,” comprising a trigger, followed by an action: if a new email arrives in an Outlook account, then send a message, for example. This is known by Zapier as a “Task.” So far, so much an IFTTT deployment, albeit one with 1000+ app instances drawn from a range of common and easy models.
Paid plans (starting at US$20 per user, per month) allow integration to “premium” apps, which include Salesforce, NetSuite, and most SQL variations. Paid plans also enable multi-step Zaps, thus, to continue the metaphor, IFTTT and T and T and T, too.
Users can also get a replay function, so if a zap fails (caused when an API is momentarily down, for instance), then it re-runs until it succeeds.
Zapier’s approach is very much citizen-led, and Tech HQ envisages users starting to automate everyday tasks, and then cross-selling plans to their colleagues, teams, and departments.
For those larger deployments, there’s Zapier for Teams, which allows sharing and collaboration on Zaps, but without having to pool individuals’ logins to the various services. There’s a free trial available to test, too.
There is the ability on Workato’s website to set up a simple automation as a form of working trial for the company’s workflow management & integration platform.
You can choose from two broad ranges of pre-built “set menus” if required, designed for IT professionals (happy with the concepts of APIs and databases), or for business professionals (who know their Salesforce inside out).
Integration among the several thousand more common apps is simple, with the building of workflows a simple process. Select which app begins the process, then plot a way through the next steps.
For instance: if a WordPress instance publishes a new post, post to three social media channels (for the sake of argument, let’s say LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook), using fields pre-filled from an SQL repository.
Workato’s offering covers all areas of the modern enterprise, with literally tens of thousands of uses, across finance, IT, HR, operations (such as IoT control of smart assembly lines), sales and helpdesks.
The back end of the Workato system includes machine-driven insights too, able to judge customer sentiment from social posts, for example, to trigger pre-built escalation protocols. The possibilities are endless.
The company’s $10 million series A funding last summer has provided the relatively new Workato to begin its climb to automation dominance!
*Some of the companies featured on this article are commercial partners of TechHQ
20 March 2023
17 March 2023