Rethink your Integration Strategy!

A modern integration strategy is an important element in IT strategies.

Digitization leads to hyper-distributed systems, applications and services - and everything has to be integrated. In the following we explain why you need to rethink today's centralized integration approaches and renew them with decentralized technologies, processes and organizational forms.

Author: Peter Graef

Yesterday and today: Central integration

Many companies in Switzerland today have central integration infrastructures: JMS messaging, MFTs, ESBs, BPM engines, etc. These technologies and the associated processes and organizational forms originate from a time when there was a desire to gain control over rampant point-to-point integrations (so-called spaghetti interfaces). Central integration at that time was the lasagne answer: well-ordered layers of integration technologies with governance principles and processes. This was organized by a central unit, the CoE (Center of Excellence) or ICC (Integration Competence Center). Finally, there was overview and control. At last, integration worked as a well embedded element in the IT strategy's master plan. 

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Figure 1: From spaghetti to lasagne architecture and beyond

The road to tomorrow: drivers of change

Fast forward into the here and now: Today there are good reasons for further development of the integration strategy. This is to address the increased demands for business agility, innovation and time-to-market. In addition, there are two specific drivers of change:

  1. The integration workload is increasing massively.

    Systems, applications and services are becoming more numerous, they are becoming more and more fine-grained, and they all need to be integrated. Microservices architectures. Cloud. Ecosystems. You name it. In plain language: There is more and more to integrate and there is more and more work for the specialists in the central ICC. For many companies, this means that integration is on the critical path of projects. Integration becomes a bottleneck in the project business. This is made more difficult by the fact that the budgeting of integration often happens in or through the projects, i.e. the projects pay for integration and obtain the specialists (internal or external) from the ICC. This prevents the FTEs (Full Time Equivalent) and thus the costs in the ICC from rising. However, coordination is made much more difficult and the ICC becomes the plaything of constantly changing project plans and resource requirements. In the worst case, the projects themselves hoard integration expertise to be independent of the ICC and bypass the central platforms wherever possible.

  2. The technological development is rapid.

    With API management, Cloud Native Services or event-driven integration, integration scenarios can be realized today that were not possible at all a few years ago. This opens up new perspectives on the associated processes and forms of organization. These technological developments have been accompanied by the rise of IT engineering. Nerds are cool today. Agile and DevOps have led to significant empowerment of IT. While Gartner and other analysts have suggested the role of 'Citizen Developer' or 'Citizen Integrator', the opposite is true: IT is becoming more complex and more technical. The new generation of IT engineers welcomes this development and has no interest in centralized on-premises integration tools with proprietary technologies that can be managed via a GUI console. Instead, they are looking for modern technologies and products that enable complex integration patterns and place high demands on IT engineers, e.g. event-driven integration with Kafka, preferably in the cloud.

«Although Gartner and other analysts have brought the role of 'Citizen Developer' or 'Citizen Integrator' into play, the opposite is true: IT is becoming increasingly complex and increasingly technical.»
Peter Graef Managing Partner

Anyone who wants to cope with the enormously increasing integration workload today, or who wants to exploit the great potential benefits of modern integration, must have an integration strategy:  

  1. Consider modern integration technologies (e.g. micro-integrations based on cubernets),
  2. Provide automation and self-service as an answer to (almost) all process issues,
  3. Articulate decentralization as a general organizational principle.

Tomorrow: Agile Integration

The goal of agile integration is to increase the productivity of the developers in the project teams and to realize solutions that really decouple systems, applications and services. 

Agile integration is not a product. Although it is of course also about technologies. Agile integration means that integration solutions are developed decentrally in the projects. They are then packaged in containers together with their runtime requirements and deployed to the company's central infrastructure platforms via highly automated CI/CD pipelines.

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Figure 2: Check-in software in pipeline, which then runs on a central platform.

A rather catchy formulation based on the old DevOps saying "you build it, you run it" could be as follows with regard to integration.

Today the ICC team says to the project team that needs an integration solution:

20200707_agile integration_Heute ICC-Team Integrationslösung_en.png

Tomorrow, the Agile Integration Platform team says to the project team:

20200707_agile integration_Morgen Agile-Integration-Plattform-Team zum Projekt-Team_en.png

Especially the last point has enormous positive effects, because the lifecycle management of the integration solutions is decoupled from the central organization. This makes any hand-offs and waiting times as well as ticket-based communication obsolete.


Of course, not all challenges are addressed. With Agile Integration:

  • The system landscape becomes more heterogeneous again 
  • The demands on the competencies of the IT engineers in the projects increases
  • Self-service is quickly said, but must also be built first together with excellent guidelines
  • Governance must have a central effect but must also be understood and accepted decentrally
  • From a process and organization perspective decentralized ownership of the integration solutions must be established

A modern integration strategy addresses the challenges of today's central technologies, processes and organizational forms. It formulates a value proposition for the critical ability to integrate faster and better. The potential benefits are enormous.

Do you need to rethink your integration strategy?

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