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5 Pitfalls Application Vendors Need to be Aware of when Considering Integration

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In a blog article earlier this week I reflected on the DIY perspective that IT people espouse when it comes to integration in their own companies. I titled the article 5 Lies. These observations were borne from conversations in the first half of the year with prospects across North America. At the same time I also had similar conversations with companies who continue to custom code integrations for their applications. Sometimes these were application providers our customers had to interact with because their trading partner used the particular solution, or sometimes it was  application vendors who were intrigued by our integration offerings and contacted us.

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During those conversations, it was clear that these companies were sometimes unaware there was a better way to approach the integration of their applications while avoiding the issues of “do it yourself” custom code. Sometimes it was because they were stuck in an old business model that was at one time very lucrative but increasingly having a negative impact on their business with frustrated customers and negative customer feedback.  What was also clear was that many applications are in a state of transition. Driven by cloud offerings with robust APIs, many legacy systems are bolting on integration pathways or are remaining with the old school model of “we do it all”. So here are the 5 pitfalls I identified.

The 5 Pitfalls

We Don’t have an API We Don’t Need One; In today’s world every self-respecting application has an API of some form whether its SOAP or REST based. Transaction specific flat file interfaces are a dying breed. This necessity has been created and driven by cloud-based applications that have to have ways to give users access to data. API growth is exponential at this time, just look at Programmable Web. Legacy applications are struggling to keep up as users demand more and more access to their data to do things that the native application doesn’t do. So having a comprehensive API, in my mind, is key in the integrability factor for an application. The flip side to the conversation was well send us the specs of what you want to integrate and we will custom code the integration. This approach may have been good for business 15 years ago but in the 21st century with the explosive growth in data and data usages users can’t wait for you to code an integration.
We have already built an API, that’s enough right?; This is an interesting one. Kudos to the application developer that recognizes they need flexible interfaces and creates them, but there is an elephant in the room. You publish an API but your customer now needs to connect to other outside applications to your API. How do you do it? Some companies fall into the custom coding trap, once again, while others take the single silo solution approach and partner with a use specific bolt on. Some realize they need a message layer around their application, and this is where middleware comes into play.

I Don’t Need Your Middleware, We will Custom Code the Integrations; 15 years ago most software companies tried to provide the all in one platform to their customers. The thought was lock your customers in, we do everything for them, they have one neck to strangle and Bob’s your Uncle so they are better off. Well as Dylan sang “Times They Are a Changin'” and they have changed in a giant way that have caught many application vendors flat footed. There has been an explosion of easily consumable cloud platforms that users can turn on and off as needed. The problem is linking those inhouse and cloud based solutions to each other. A long list of analysts, from A to Z, have identified this as a major IT issue. So the application vendor that tries to custom code each and every integration is doing their customers a giant disservice. First, you have to ask yourself what is your core expertise? If its integration then you are not an application vendor, unless of course you sell middleware. If you are an application vendor it is probably not coding integrations to a disparate list of cloud and on premise solutions that is your core expertise.

We Have to Custom Code Because No One Knows our Application as Well as We Do; This argument usually follows the I don’t need your middleware argument. Let’s face it. Application vendors and their agents make money on custom coding. I won’t deny it. The bigger question is whether customing coding is of benefit to your customer. I frankly don’t think so. I have spoken to so many companies who are really fed up with their application vendor, who charges a kings ransom, takes too long or even fails to deliver on custom coded integrations regardless of how well they know their own application. This puts their customer in a difficult situation. They potentially lose business because of their application provider and in turn feel like they are being held hostage. Not a good scene all round. So this begs the question, do the labour costs to the client and the opportunity cost of your developers’ time to focus on more strategic and repeatable business worth something to the business?

We Can be Everything to Everybody; This used to be the adage years ago. One platform. One source. One Philosophy. One neck to strangle. I still hear it today. Some companies want one source. That’s great but what these companies fail to understand is that the world is far too complex today for any one company to be an expert in everything. We at VL partner with many ERP, WMS and other platform vendors who have realised they don’t have the expertise and tools we do to do integrations quickly, cost-effectively and in a way that benefits their customers. Some times they understand its not cost effective for them, other times its because they realise they don’t have the expertise. Partnering with experts to enhance your service and solution offering is not a sign of weakness it is a sign that you understand the complexity of the world your customers operate in and want to add value to your customer and their business.

VL as well as our partner Liaison offer solutions and expertise that allow application vendors to address these pitfalls. We would love to hear your thoughts.


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