What is Enterprise Application Integration?
As an organization grows in size, it adopts an increasing number of enterprise applications that streamline the management of front office and back-office functions. Businesses depend on their accounting software, customer relationship management tools, analytics platform, and other applications to provide critical business functionalities and services, but there is a significant issue with the typical deployment model for enterprise applications: information silos.
Communication between enterprise applications is not automated, and as a result, these tools are not configured to talk to each other, pass data back and forth, share business rules or otherwise interact in any way. This results in widespread business inefficiencies:
- If important data is captured in a given application, it must be manually entered into other applications
- If important data is modified in a given application, the changes will not be reflected in other applications - the changes must be entered manually
- If an application needs data that exists in another application, a user must manually search for that data
These inefficiencies may result in poor access to information, administrative delays, and slower business processes.
The solution to the lack of communication between enterprise apps is Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), the implementation of technologies that facilitate communication between enterprise applications. Enterprise application integration establishes a middleware framework that helps data flow freely between applications without significant changes to database configurations or the applications themselves, leading to a streamlined process and increased data availability.
Why Implement Enterprise Application Integration?
Enterprise applications are software programs that large businesses depend on to solve their biggest problems. They are often too large and complex to be implemented by an individual, or sometimes even a small business.
Enterprise applications can be hosted on-premises in the organization's own data centers. They may also be deployed on private cloud servers, hosted either on-premises or managed off-site by a third-party service provider. Some enterprise organizations have migrated their applications to public cloud environments. Others have built and customized a hybrid cloud architecture where some applications are hosted on private cloud servers, some on public cloud servers, and there is some interface that connects them.
As an enterprise organization deploys more types of applications, the presence and impact of information silos within the business can increase exponentially. Some of the most common enterprise application types include:
- Accounting systems
- Automated billing systems
- Business analytics and intelligence platform
- Business continuity planning (BCP)
- Content management system
- Customer relationship management (CRM) tools
- Email marketing platform
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
- Enterprise messaging systems
- Payment processing
- Service desk application
A McAfee report titled "Every Company is a Software Company" estimated that the largest enterprise organizations, ones with over 50,000 employees, deployed an average of 788 custom applications. Even the smallest organizations with between 1 and 1,000 employees managed an average of 22 custom applications. Overall, 36.2% of these apps were externally facing, 7% were accessible to users both within and outside of the organization, and the majority of 56.8% were internally facing.
The information silos created by this expanding ecosystem of internally-facing business-critical applications is the main reason why enterprise organizations are engaging in enterprise application integration. In view of that, there are three enterprise needs that are driving the adoption of enterprise application integration:
Enterprise organizations that deploy many externally and internally facing applications need to integrate data from across those applications, ensuring that databases are synchronized and streamlining data access and availability throughout the entire organization.
Enterprise application integration helps reduce an organization's dependence on individual software vendors by abstracting business policies or rules from the application and into a middleware framework. Instead of customizing an application with business rules, the organization instead customizes its enterprise application integration system with business rules and policies, making it easier to swap out enterprise applications and choose new vendors when necessary.
Enterprise application integration creates an opportunity for common facades or common interfaces that can access multiple applications. Instead of learning twenty different user interfaces for twenty different applications, EAI might allow employees of an organization to learn a single graphical user interface (GUI) that connects seamlessly with existing applications, databases, and other enterprise tools. This streamlines administrative processes and helps employees be more productive using enterprise applications.
Five Models for Enterprise Application Integration
There is no standardized model for enterprise application integration. As a result, several models have emerged for establishing communication between enterprise applications. As the discipline of enterprise application integration has matured, so too have the methodologies used to facilitate communication and data transfer between software programs.
The earliest application integrations were done using point-to-point connections. A script would be used to extract data from one application, modify its structure or format, and send it to a different application. This simple method can be effective with small numbers of applications, but as the number of applications grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to program and maintain the necessary dependencies to keep systems fully integrated.
In the hub-and-spoke model, a centralized hub connects to enterprise applications, captures, and re-formats data and decides where that data should be distributed. Hub-and-spoke integration removes the need to program individual dependencies between each pair of applications, but developers must still use runtime components to manually route data to the correct application.
Bus integration represents an evolution of the hub-and-spoke model that runs without human interference. Bus integration uses a defined set of standards to govern the flow of data between applications, enabling any application to transmit or receive data according to the applied business rules and policies.
Middleware is a category of a software tool that sits between application user interfaces and operating systems. Functioning as a hidden translation layer, middleware tools support communication and data transfer between a distributed group of applications, making it easy to consolidate database entries and synchronize data across disparate systems. Organizations may use database middleware, application server middleware, message-oriented middleware, or other types depending on their unique requirements.
Microservice architecture is the current standard for enterprise applications that are deployed in the cloud. Enterprises that run their applications in the cloud can capture data from each deployed microservice and route that data to the required destinations and databases using APIs.
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