Last month we examined the evolution of connected applications to integrated applications, specifically within the Human Capital Management software sector. In this article we take a closer look at the underlying technologies that are enabling an integrated approach, and what types of applications might benefit from such approaches in the immediate future.
The visual metaphor that best explains the difference between connected and integrated is one of interlocking fingers. If you hold your hands up facing each other, with each fingertip touching the fingertip of the respective finger on the opposite hand, you have a visual metaphor of connectivity. In this case it would be two applications connected in five different ways. Now, if you interlock the fingers on your left hand with the fingers on your right hand, you have integration, where both hands overlap and interlock in a way that makes them behave as one, with a combined set of functionality. The connectivity points are numerous, not just at the fingertips, but up and down the lengths of each finger.
Integrations, Connections, and Combinations
Integration can be thought of as a combination of capabilities. But sometimes the way those capabilities are combined is by connecting features at a fine level of granularity. For example, when a systems management dashboard allows for the visualization and management of both storage systems and compute systems, it has connected its visualization engine to two separate systems at a fine level of granularity, and thus integrated them. If all the systems management tool did was collect summary data or provide shortcuts to link to a separate user interface, it would have done little more than connect the systems. But if it pulls fine grained data (such as uptime, performance, user load, throughput/bandwidth, etc.) and displays it within the user interface, it has delivered a new capability built from the combination of two finer-grained capabilities, and it has thus integrated the systems.
When low-level features are connected, their owning systems are combined or integrated. However, when high-level capabilities are connected, you have just that, connectivity but not integration. So the hard part is getting product teams, product managers, and development organizations to combine their features at a low level of granularity, connect them, and thus integrate the higher level modules and products. Unlike high level connectivity, this level of integration cannot be done mostly in slideware, but rather has to be done in architecture, specifications, and ultimately scrum teams and computer code.
Like we explored with HCM systems, many enterprise applications are now connected. Data integration products (such as Informatica, Boomi, and Mulesoft) have facilitated connecting all sorts of applications. The aforementioned tools are often used to connect ERP, CRM, Supply Chain, HCM, Content Management, as well as in-house IT applications. In some ways, the advent and success of these tools has delayed ultimate integration and allowed users to settle for connectivity.
New technologies have enabled this better type of integration both on the server and client sides. On the server side, ubiquitous web services APIs have made it possible for large enterprise systems to share information at reasonably low levels of granularity with other larger enterprise systems – both in-house and commercial. They can do this without any significant dependency on large code libraries – libraries that heretofore would have had to be linked into the applications – creating both bloat and security concerns. Integration on the server side works well when the visual metaphors associated with working with a new data set don’t have to change, allowing the client side to go untouched and end-user workflow unchanged.
A Word About Dell and EMC
Finally, it is hard to conclude this article without mentioning the recent megadeal between Dell and EMC. Time will tell whether these two companies connect their products or integrate them. On the software side, both companies offer a slew of systems management applications, security solutions, and storage management products. Time will tell whether products will emerge that offer a unified set of features combined and integrated from existing offerings, or whether existing products just gain the ability to connect with each other by sharing underlying data, but not taking the extra step of true integration.
[Contributed by Jeffrey Vogel, Strategy Consulting]