If you’ve taken the time to listen to the great interview between our very own Robin H. Smith and FrankReactions’ Tema Frank, you already know that when it comes to talking integration with the people who know it best, things can get, well… complicated. And quickly.
There’s a lot of industry jargon and terminology that integration experts throw into any dialogue where we’re asked to talk about this highly specialized niche we love so well. Just like any good Fandom, we’re likely to geek out a little when we have the opportunity to pass our extensive knowledge on to any interested party. But if you’re new to researching your data integration options, it’s always good to come prepared to any discussions with experts by doing your own research first!
And to help you in the process of becoming data integration literate, here’s a short list of some terms everyone should be familiar with!
VL’s Data Integration Dictionary
Why is this the first definition in our integration dictionary? Because data integration has everything to do with customer experience.
How your data flows in the back end of your company dictates how your customers will experience what your business has to offer. If the data and applications are integrated properly, then the customer won’t even think of the mechanics behind what makes your business work. They’ll simply have an excellent experience, and the likelihood of them returning to be a reoccurring customer is high.
But if your data and applications aren’t integrated properly, including a failure to strategize for any unforeseen scalability issues or volume increases, your customers will definitely notice in their poor experience with your brand. Worst of all, these poor experiences may never come to your direct attention: next time those customers need what your company provides, they’ll likely go to the next person on their list instead of you in hopes of a better customer experience.
Integrated EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) is the grandfather of what data and application integration has become today, including e-commerce JIT (Just In Time) shipping models. EDI, in short, is an “electronic communication method that provides standards for exchanging data via any electronic means“. So when your paying up at your dentist and they’re sending documents to your insurance company to work out what you owe? That’s EDI!
But EDI isn’t the center of the data communication universe like it was when VL got started in 1994. In the last 5 years or so, e-commerce and omnichannel retail (both B2B [business-to-business sales] and B2C [business-to-consumer sales]) have exploded in popularity and prevalence. From VL’s start in EDI 20+ years ago, we’ve adapted to the changing times and have gone from traditional EDI to all that and customized data integration in the supply chain.
XML, JSON, and other file types
A conversation with an integration expert or programmer, like the numerous ones VL has in-house (ones that you can actually talk to, too, when you’re our customer!), can quickly go from 0 to 100 KPM if you’re not familiar with some of the file types associated with data and application integration. XML and JSON are just two examples of file types related to data integration, but once you understand the basic concepts behind these file types, they get a whole lot less scary and intimidating:
- XML: “Extensible Markup Language”. In English: a document that programs and machines can read and understand, but a human can easily read and understand as well.
- PDF: Those documents that open in Adobe PDF viewer that you usually can’t edit, no matter how hard you try. The data in these documents is also readable by humans (duh) and machines.
- Email: Where junk mail goes to die. And again (all together, now): also readable by humans and machines!
So in short, no matter the acronyms or file types an integration expert might throw at you, take this away: any document that has a structure to it can be processed and therefore integrated. Easy!
APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are where you can quickly get left in the dust when trying to talk integration. Warning: do not Google or Wikipedia ‘API’ if you’re looking for a straight-forward explanation: you’ll only get very technical and complex jargon!
In short, APIs are how programs, applications, and more ‘talk’ to each other. APIs are not all created equal – some function better than others. Think of APIs as languages, or better yet – internet slang. If one program is using 70’s slang to talk to another program that’s using the most current, up-to-date slang, you’re not going to have a great conversation. Things will be missed, misunderstood, and not communicated. APIs need to be current and accessible for a successful integration.
Why does this matter?
If you’re choosing technology for technology’s sake instead of designing a customer experience and picking technology that fits with your strategy, you might end up with a program or application with a terrible API. Or no API.
Pretty important stuff, right? Take APIs into consideration when picking your business’ application suite!
Awesome fact: the biggest API out there is actually the internet!
If you’re a regular follower of our blog, you’ll see the term ‘scalability’ pretty frequently. That’s because scalability and customer experience run hand-in-hand, and both rely on a functional data integration back-end to work and meet expectations.
Scalability is the ability of your business – no matter what your business is, both online and in the physical world – to meet various levels of demand without any hiccups or mass failures.
Want to know if your business’ integration is scalable? Ask yourself a couple of questions:
- What would happen if my business had to fulfill on 100,000 orders by tomorrow? 1 million orders? What happens if Walmart knocks on my door and says they’d like to feature my business in all their stores world-wide, on the condition I can meet their vendor demands?
- Does my business have a central point of truth when it comes to my data flow? Put differently: if I need to swap out one application in favor for a more functional and robust one, can I do so easily because I’m sending all my data through a central hub and my various applications are ‘spokes’ around this hub? Or will my integration spaghetti factory crumble to pieces because each application’s integration is dependent on another application?
If you can’t provide positive answers to either of these questions with confidence, I hate to break it to you but your business is probably not scalable. What this means is that you’re putting your customer experience and ultimately your business in jeopardy. Scalability is extremely important, and a solid data integration on your business’ back end is crucial.
If you can wrap your head around these 5 terms central to data integration, you should be well-equipped to talk to any integration expert. And if they’re worth their salt, ask questions if you don’t understand! There’s nothing more that we love at VL than sharing our wealth of knowledge with interested parties – customer service is VL’s first and most important mandate! We’re just trying to make the world a better place one integration, partnership, and business at a time. (See for yourself – have a chat with us!)
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