Click to learn more about author Prasanna Kumar Illa.
Any matured business will start the digital transformation journey with a clear strategy and vision driven by the leadership team, who facilitate a culture that quickly embraces the change. Technology is an enabler of digital transformation and technology, along with the strategy, leadership and culture drives the business transformation and innovation.
The research project by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte mentions the importance of integration as below:
“The strength of digital technologies — social, mobile, analytics and cloud — doesn’t lie in the technologies individually. Instead, it stems from how companies integrate them to transform their businesses and how they work.”
The four technology areas: Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud were the foundation for digital innovation in most organizations till recently. Today IoT, Big Data, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence are further accelerating the digital transformation. The convergence of all these technology areas give raise to next generation applications and new business opportunities. Integrating these diverse technology areas is paramount for the convergence to happen and the traditional integration approaches are not feasible in the new digital disruption era where changes occur very fast. Integration technologies have evolved over the years to address the specific challenges of that time. The newer emerging and disruptive technologies demands an agile, scalable and robust integration platform, where the focus is essentially business-centric. The following are the key technology components that are critical to establish an agile integration platform:
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)
APIs are the building blocks of digital transformation. APIs offer flexible and consistent means to access hybrid IT environment that includes modern SaaS applications and traditional on-premise systems. As mentioned in Gartner report, APIs delivers the demands of digital strategy to support bimodal IT, where the legacy business operations and modern innovative solutions are simultaneously addressed. A well-managed API that can scale infinitely is used repetitively internally within the business and externally by different partners and developer communities. Organizations are adopting “API-first” design and Microservices based architecture to introduce new features and capabilities as fast as possible with least disruption to business. Microservices architecture breaks the traditional large, monolithic applications into loosely-coupled fine-grained services offering greater agility, easier adaptability and faster deployment.
APIs should not be treated as just technical assets that IT manages; however, they should be viewed as strategic products that can bring new business opportunities. Some of the popular APIs includes Netflix, Google Maps, Accuweather, Bloomberg etc. AI-driven APIs are recently gaining momentum to enhance existing applications to cognitive systems with progressive learning capabilities such as interactive conversations, natural language processing, facial recognition etc.
Self-service Cloud Platforms
Organizations embracing digital transformation operates in an agile fashion with faster go-to-market strategy. The different LOBs (Line of Business), departments and cross functional teams that have low-complex repetitive integration requirements should not wait for IT teams or specialized resources, which have considerable backlogs, to build their integration jobs. Instead, they should be able to build their own integration flows wherever applicable, without relying on dedicated technical resources. They should be able to establish connectivity to various applications in the organization, be it SaaS or on-premise, to meet their business requirements. Cloud Service Providers, generally referred as iPaaS (integration Platform-as-a-Service), greatly simplifies the integration development process and offers “self-service” capabilities for business users to build their own integrations. These providers offer rich portfolio of cloud application connectors and provides a market place for developers to build various 3rd party connectors. They allow low-coding or no-coding through browser-based development, resulting in faster time-to-market. Using this platform, citizen developers as well as integration developers can build sophisticated application and data integrations through ease.
API-led design and self-service platform offers the business agility needed for digital strategy. However, agility alone is meaningless without the means to quickly productionize the integration assets. Speed is of utmost essence to quickly monetize and expand the digital assets. Gone are the days when the release windows are once-or-twice a quarter. Weekly releases and even daily continuous deployments are very common these days, and this is possible because of DevOps. DevOps requires a shift in mindset across the organization from traditional thinking, where speed-driven Dev team and stability-focused Ops team come together to embrace change in small iterative increments. The ideas must be realized faster to foster rapid experimentation and innovation. Using DevOps philosophy, the build process is automated as far as possible. Several aspects of the build release cycle are automated such as unit tests, code reviews, quality checks, compliance checks, system integration tests and acceptance tests. This level of automation ensures faster releases, with a consistent and reliable process in place.
Data-driven decision making is ingrained in digital organization. The value proposition of the deployed digital assets can be determined only when it is properly measured on a timely basis. Metrics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) play an important role in measuring the success of productionized integrations and its contribution to digital transformation. The KPIs should be created right after the business vision and goals are initially formulated and not just before the assets are deployed to production. They must align with the overall objectives of digital strategy and not just with low level technical measurements. The consumption patterns and business benefits of APIs, microservices and integration platform services are continuously monitored and measured. The leadership should have access to these metrics and reports on regular periodic basis so they can identify new market opportunities and make smarter decisions.
As a conclusion, technology is the key enabler of digital transformation and, in turn, application connectivity through integrations plays an important role in realizing the technology objectives. To adopt or drive the rapidly evolving technology changes, APIs are the core fundamental components that can be independently enhanced and composed together, like building with “lego” blocks, to form a more holistic digital product. Using self-service “kiosk” platforms such as iPaaS, citizen developers can build their own integrations, wherever applicable, for faster time to market. The APIs and Integration flows, thus developed, are consistently and reliably productionized through automated build “pipes” that ensures speed as well as stability. Last but not the least, using metrics and KPIs, the deployed digital assets are measured to ensure business objectives are met and to identify new opportunities.