Why custom integrations could be costing your business its competitive advantage

Emely Patra, head of EMEA customer success strategy and architecture at MuleSoft, discusses why custom integrations could cost your business a competitive advantage

Digital is the new frontline in the battle for competitive advantage. Mulesoft research shows organisations could lose nearly $7 million each on average if they fail to complete digital transformation initiatives. However, while senior business decision makers understand the urgency of these efforts, they may be less enthused by the technologies and approaches required to turn digital plans into reality. Take integration for example. The impulse is often to persist with the old ways of doing things, simply because that’s the way things were always done.

In reality, these traditional – usually custom point-to-point code-based approaches – are failing. They add cost and complexity and slow down the pace of innovation. That’s bad news in a post-pandemic world where competitive advantage rests on creating connected user experiences. An API-led approach, with reusability at its core, offers an increasingly popular and more agile alternative.

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The importance of integration

Technology assets exist across the modern enterprise both on-premises and in the cloud, spanning databases, applications, and devices. According to recent research, organisations now have on average more than 970 discrete applications. It’s becoming increasingly important that organisations can unlock the value of this data and these assets, both internally and for the benefit of partners and customers. This is where integration comes in.

When done correctly, integration can help leaders access data from across their organisation to make better informed business decisions and enable better connected employee and customer experiences. This is essential given that user expectations for digital experiences have never been higher, raising the stakes for enterprise integration strategies.

An integral failing

Currently, less than a third (30%) of global organisations are able to provide connected experiences across all channels, and only 28% of enterprise applications, on average, are integrated. Overall more than half (55%) of organisations say they are finding it difficult to integrate user experiences.

In many cases, these shortcomings are being caused by a continued reliance on custom integrations, which take a point-to-point approach, where each system is connected individually to other systems. This might work if there are no more than three systems to integrate, but dozens, or even hundreds of individual integrations are needed to connect the multitude of applications that today’s organisations rely on. That approach is messy, complicated, and expensive for the IT teams tasked with adding, removing, and maintaining these tightly coupled integrations. Currently, organisations are spending on average $3.5 million each year in IT labour alone managing these projects.

The result is a drag on innovation because it takes longer to get products or services to market. Part of this is down to the fact that IT spends so much time maintaining its complex web of single purpose integrations that it has little time for anything else.

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How API-led integration can help

We live in a world of rapid digital change, where business agility is essential to survival, never mind competitive advantage. So what’s the answer?

APIs offer an alternative that can help enterprises rise to these challenges. Rather than rigid point-to-point integrations, they support looser coupling of applications, data, and devices. Applications talk seamlessly to each other via these APIs, enabling businesses to unlock data and drive value. Even better, assets and capabilities are packaged up in a reusable manner to cut costs and IT time and make them simple for internal employees, customers and third parties to consume. Encouragingly, almost half of organisations say they now make their internal software assets and capabilities available as reusable APIs. In addition, with the right low- and no-code tooling, such capabilities can be put in the hands of business technologists – employees outside the IT department who have technical skills – so they can drive their own innovation. This helps to accelerate time-to-value and relieves further pressure from overstretched IT departments. Security and governance can also be built into the API layer to reduce breach and compliance risk.

Driving change from the top

Unsurprisingly, boardroom attitudes are changing. The number of organisations who mandate a company-wide API integration strategy has surged to 26%, up from just 15% a year ago. That’s great progress, but there’s still some way to go. IT leaders must get better at selling the benefits of API-led connectivity, by tying it back to relevant transformation priorities — whether it’s a cloud migration to increase business agility, IoT deployments to create more data for monetisation, or omnichannel customer engagement to boost sales. Reusable APIs are here, and they’re already driving speed, agility, and success. For organisations still using custom integrations, it may be time for a rethink.

Written by Emely Patra, head of EMEA customer success strategy and architecture at MuleSoft, and nominee for the upcoming Women in IT Awards UK

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