What is integration architecture, and why is it important?
Integration architecture unites an organisation’s varied applications – large enterprises typically have an average of 650 applications in their arsenal – to utilise its data quickly, efficiently and securely. It breaks down departmental silos by sharing key information across the organisation, and creates efficiencies by reducing the need to manually enter data from different inputs – not to mention the risk of human error in such activities.
Integration architecture enables inter-application connection by using application programming interfaces (APIs). This approach allows organisations to leverage “off the shelf” software while also moulding its capabilities to suit their specific needs and nuances. It also considers how, in the future, applications can be added, removed or replaced to keep up with organisational requirements.
The alternate approach to this would be costly and inefficient bespoke software in the place of utilising existing products.
Developing integration architecture is a key component of modernising legacy platforms and providing a superior staff and customer experience.
Integration architecture best practices
So when it comes to designing an integration architecture that supports a business’ objectives, what do you need to ensure its success?
Develop a comprehensive and realistic plan
Like all initiatives, a failure to plan is a plan to fail. It may be a cliche, but its accuracy is why the saying persists. The foundational stages of an integration architecture design project should begin with a thorough investigation and articulation of your organisation’s actual current state. Defining the current state identifies the pain points and inefficiencies in the arrangement as it stands, and begins to shape the objectives of the target state.
Designing this target state explores the intent of the integration work, and therefore the prioritisation of features. It looks at the organisation holistically – beyond the departmental silos – and accounts for each of the applications and data points in use, including CRMs, core platforms, social platforms, etc.
An intelligent plan will work with your organisation’s actual business operations and specific needs. The architecture should complement and optimise your existing processes, not over engineer them.
Here is where you can establish the scope and specific objectives of the initiative; in turn prioritising budget allocations and developing a schedule of execution.
Prioritise data quality
When data is one of the most powerful and valuable assets in your organisation, it is essential to preserve its quality. While integration can drastically cut down the risk of human error and mishandling of data, any transfer process brings its own risks. Determining the compatibility of data sets and how to ensure their interoperability is a critical activity in an integration architecture design.
Defining data in a standardised form can help link information from multiple applications in a way that allows them to interoperate by designing the data to be compatible. This approach facilitates data as both an interface schema and avenue for manipulating data before it propagates to downstream applications – such as in data migration from current to target state.
Using data as an interface helps in removing silos and provides a layer of insulation against changes in the source application. This is particularly important for stability if the source and consuming applications evolve at different rates.
Data cleansing and transformation techniques provide that extra level of assurance in quality, since the quality of the output is affected by the quality of the input, in both data and any subsequent integration to make use of that data.
Implement appropriate data security protocols and measures
Organisations and individuals alike are becoming more and more aware of data retention and its function creep. As such, integration activities are a welcome opportunity to not only maintain the security of your data, but indeed fortify it. Where individual applications may have appropriate security, integration may – without the guidance of experienced consultants – inadvertently open security loopholes that would need to be addressed.
When creating these protocols and measures, you should:
- Audit your organisation’s data requirements and design around your specific requirements.
- Identify use cases for your data and review ways in which the data is accessed.
- Map out and determine patterns of access and implement security protocols that are fit for purpose.
- Categorise and apply standardised integration patterns to ensure security is applied consistently with any deviations logged as a risk.
- Ensure all activity is monitored, modelled, and limited to an expected profile specific to the use case.
- Use automation to remove complexity, reduce compromise of security due to manual errors, and increase frequency of secrets rotation.
Define future maintenance
Integration work is often part of a modernisation initiative – moving away from legacy platforms that are not composable or interoperable. The maintenance of such platforms accrues more and more technical debt, which can then feel like an additional burden to overcome. To avoid this state again in the future, it is important to develop a timeline of maintenance checkpoints and assign accountability.
Designing an integrated organisational environment is a major undertaking, but provides exponential opportunity for efficiency and quality. Having experienced data architects on hand to design an executable strategy makes all the difference. Speak to our architects at 9Yards to see how we can help your organisation develop new efficient operations.