Destination: Integration

Integration-as-a-service may be one of the last areas where service providers have taken to the cloud, but there are a whole host of reasons why it’s particularly well suited for cloud-based delivery.

Data integration is a discipline that’s historically been neglected in IT projects, almost coming as an afterthought, and in traditional supply chains and EDI, it has left smaller players less well equipped to take part. But with modern SOA-based adapters built to extend the reach of standards-based ESBs, it’s possible to host the integration infrastructure anywhere, and having a third-party specialist manage it in the cloud, makes a lot of sense.

The afterthought

Integration is one of those areas that is often forgotten about until the end of a project – there’s a new sexy front-office application for the enterprise, and the IT team is too busy configuring it to worry about connectivity to back-office systems, databases and other operational applications. Generally, when that connectivity problem arises, it is too late to change the applications and it can cause huge expense.

Even within large enterprises that have one or more EAI hubs running, these can act as barriers to cost-effective integration, and can see them writing custom code to make their adaptors work for specific data extractions or transformations. Point-to-point integrations of this type are not only costly to write, they are also expensive and difficult to maintain over time.

More and more, though, B2B integration is being federated out to third parties – such as Amadeus in transport and logistics or F4FAgriculture, an Adaptris company, in the food and agri business, plus of course the irresistible rise of online CRM such as Salesforce.com. In these instances, the business logic passes to the cloud application, but there’s still a requirement to integrate data to the enterprise’s back office systems.

In fact, enterprises risk creating new islands of information with cloud data – with inconsistency of customer data, and the need to reconcile that with information that’s residing in the order management system in the back office. It is also a lot more complicated to manage the islands of data when you don’t control the schemas and structures used by the cloud application.

Managing complexity to deliver benefits

Integration-as-a-service delivers a virtual services layer that can handle the complexity of these heterogeneous integration environments. The underlying principles we work to is that we can federate out the runtime. We can have a lightweight adapter, part of which runs on the customer site locally, and part of which operates in the cloud and we can send the message either to the bus at the customer site, or to a hosted integration infrastructure in the cloud.

Integration-as-a-service delivers two major areas of benefit. Firstly, it can bring smaller players into the conversation – the small service provider that couldn’t afford to integrate to an EDI service. The second area is around third-party B2B services.

With the hosted integration these services provide, the integration provider can add value in the order to cash cycle through matching and correlation of messages. These techniques can be used to spot differences between orders and invoices and mark them out as exceptions, or notify suppliers when invoices have been approved for payment.

The provider can even provide added value services, such as invoice factoring so suppliers are paid more quickly. The supplier in turn can use information that is fed back from the provider to inform its cash flow projections or to manage its returns process.

A new breed

The biggest shift in this new breed of integration is the move away from simple file delivery services offered by traditional EDI VAN providers to actually adding business value to all participants of the supply chain. The traditional perspective on integration as a costly overhead is turned around and it becomes instead a value-adding activity.

Jeff Bradshaw is chief technology officer at Adaptris. Jeff is responsible for the overall technical leadership of the company. He sets the development roadmap, and works with the Chief Architect to deliver innovative software that the "field" organisation can take to market. Jeff also works with the operations team to ensure that the solutions deployed within the company's four data centres are always available. In addition to this, he liaises with customers, to ensure that solutions exceed their requirements, and grow with their business. Jeff has spent his working life in the B2B arena. Prior to forming Adaptris, Jeff worked with EDI and EAI industry leaders Perwill and Frontec (Axway) and end user organisations DHL, and Equitas. Jeff has been engaged as a consultant with many large partners including Progress and customers including British Airways, Scottish Widows, British Telecommunications, and Carrefour.

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