System Integration: Types and Approaches

January 17, 2023
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How many apps does your organization use? 50? 100?

On average, the modern organization uses over 200 apps. Each department uses between 40 to 60 applications — and individual employees each use at least a handful of their own.

Integrated systems help organizations get the most value out of their apps. Connected apps can access relevant data faster and operate in concert with other vital system components. There are multiple types of integrated systems and multiple methods of integration — depending on your organization’s structure and tech stack.

Read on to learn more about system integration, integration structures, integration types, and the tools you’ll need to improve your organizational efficiency.

What Is System Integration?

System integration refers to the connections between an organization’s physical and virtual technology. For some organizations, this is simple; for others, it’s extremely complex. Integration complexity depends on the organization’s needs and desired functionality.

Consider a small organization of 30 to 40 people. Their systems and subsystems are entirely routed through Microsoft Office 365. Every desktop and work phone connects to the Office 365 ecosystem. The organization’s systems are already fully integrated because the organization uses a self-contained tech stack.

Now, imagine a much larger enterprise of 1,000 people. This organization may use Office 365 but also Slack, Jira, Salesforce, and Justworks. How does this organization ensure that its Office 365 documents are properly connected to Salesforce? How does it make sure that Jira Epics are appropriately posted to Slack?

The nature of integrations has changed over the years, especially with the proliferation of SaaS. Decades ago, system administrators were primarily concerned with integrating on-premise servers. Now, system integration — whether through APIs or an enterprise service bus — takes place largely on the cloud.

Integration Systems: Enterprise, Data, and Electronic Documents

Start with a breakdown of the systems you need integrated. Do you need applications connected? Data warehoused? While every type of integration ultimately comes down to data, there are a few types of integration systems that are the most common.

Enterprise Application Integration

Enterprise application integrations directly connect separate apps. Connect Slack to Jira, and you’ve integrated enterprise applications. You might also connect your document management system with your project management system or your customer relationship management suite with your auto-dialer.

For workflows and business processes, application integration is the most important type of integration. Connecting your applications helps you boost your organization’s efficiency, as employees don’t need to manually import and export data or shift from one platform to another. Enterprise application integration also improves security; it’s easier to manage and maintain an integrated system than one that is scattered and siloed.

Data Integration

Data integration is the process of integrating separate data sets. Sync your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram data into a consolidated platform like HubSpot, and you perform data integration.

The result of this integration is a single unified data set that you can then optimize and manage. Frequently, an organization may have multiple data sources combined into a single, larger data warehouse or data lake. Consolidation may involve real-time data or be incrementally synced.

Without data integration, an organization must manually manage multiple data sets. This process increases the overhead, the chances of losing critical data, and department silos. SnapLogic AutoSync syncs data from SaaS applications into data warehousing with speed and fidelity.

Electronic Document Integration (EDI)

Electronic document integration (EDI) is a subset of data integration that specifically refers to moving documents from your own internal system to an external system, such as a vendor. It’s a type of business-to-business integration. Whenever you send a purchase order to a vendor’s inventory system, you’re performing electronic document integration. EDI typically requires a common data format between the software solutions.

Organizations must transfer electronic documents while preserving security and confidentiality — especially in industries with sensitive information, like healthcare and education.

Integration Structures: Point-to-Point, Vertical, Star, Horizontal (Hub-and-Spoke)

Within an integrated system, methods of integration control how data and processes flow. Data and processes could flow in one direction or multiple — depending on your organization’s needs and current IT systems.

Point-to-Point

Your organization needs to connect one app directly to another app either to move data between them or to trigger an event.

An example of point-to-point integration would be a website sending contact information to a sales management system, such as Salesforce. Point-to-point connections are an excellent first step for system integration projects, but they don’t create a complete ecosystem.

Vertical

Your organization wants to create a complete workflow pipeline that takes your processes from start to finish.

Vertical integration connects multiple apps in a single line, moving from the start of a process to the end of a process, frequently with the goal of consolidating the organization’s complete tech stack.

For example, a customer makes a purchase on a website. The website sends the contact information to the sales system. The sales system sends the shipping information to the company’s production and manufacturing departments. The company has “stacked” its operations — data does not need to be sent sideways to an external vendor.

Star

Your organization wants to create a complete, connected system of mission-critical applications.

Star integration connects multiple apps and/or subsystems. It can be considered a collection of point-to-point integrations. Not all apps and system components of a star integration will be connected — just the apps that need to talk to each other.

When properly managed, this structure can lead to extremely efficient integrations. When improperly managed, it can lead to “spaghetti integration,” in which software applications are messily or redundantly synced.

A customer places an order on a website. The website sends an order to the sales system. The sales system then sends that information to the shipping and logistics department. Meanwhile, the website also logs the customer in the company’s customer relationship management suite. The CRM suite sends a notice to a sales rep in Slack. Multiple applications are connected and talking to each other, but they aren’t all connected and talking to each other.

Horizontal or Hub-and-Spoke

Your organization wants to connect its system through a single controlling application, whether for ease of use, simplicity of management, or compliance.

Horizontal integration uses a single platform to connect to all other platforms. The organization bases its ecosystem on a specific suite, which then integrates directly with its other tools. This model is also called “hub-and-spoke,” as it involves a single hub (the controlling platform) that operates as a gateway to other applications.

Many companies today use a CRM like Salesforce as the foundation of their horizontal tech stack. From there, the organization may connect inventory, logistics, and marketing systems. The central suite controls and manages the other integrations.

Integration Types: APIs, Webhooks, and SnapLogic Snaps

To perform any type of integration, you need technology that enables you to connect one system to another. For the most part, companies today use APIs and webhooks to integrate their tools. But there’s another often easier option — Snaps.

APIs

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are built-in interfaces for interacting with an application. An API provides a layer between one application and another, creating a common language that these applications can use to speak to each other. A programmer can use an API to initiate processes within another application or transfer data to another application.

APIs tend to be the easiest and fastest way to integrate tools. But they have to be developed first. If a software product doesn’t yet have an API built, then an organization will need to create custom code to connect it.

Webhooks

Commonly used in SaaS, webhooks link applications through event-based solutions. Webhooks provide real-time information, but they’re limited to sending an event. Unlike APIs, they can’t send complex information — they primarily send a status.

SnapLogic’s Snaps

If you need to connect to a popular application – and you’d rather use an interface than create custom code – you can use a Snap. Snaps are pre-built connectors available for the most commonly used apps. They’re a fast path toward digital transformation for those who don’t want to dig into more time-consuming types of system integration or boutique software development.

Integrate Your System with SnapLogic

An unintegrated system is an inefficient system. When fully integrated, your applications operate as a unified whole, normalizing your data and improving your processes. And system integration doesn’t need to be a challenge.

SnapLogic provides intelligent, pre-built connectors to swiftly connect and automate your application ecosystem — along with a wide array of other integration services, ranging from custom-built APIs to Iris Artificial Intelligence. Book a demo of SnapLogic today.

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