The integrations market is changing. Numerous factors have reshaped the industry over the past 10 years, moving focus away from consulting services and on-site engagements toward point-and-click products. The shift has happened for many reasons: among them the emergence of cloud, SaaS and SOA, as well as the rise of a younger crop of business analysts that are more comfortable handling their own data.
Blame Salesforce.com. Since that company came into prominence with enterprises, the demand for systems integrations has moved away from internally focused applications and toward combining internal and external systems. Out of this shift, new companies have already come forward to solve the problem of integrating Salesforce’s services with enterprise software, such as ERP and purchasing systems.
But Brian Hopkins, principal analyst at Forrester Research, said that the integrations shift “is moving, at the highest level from application integrations to data integrations. If you go back and look at our research from 10 years ago, I think you’ll find that how data play nicely together today is a bigger focus, and it’s less about how applications integrate.
“Application integration was the big buzzword eight to 10 years ago, but with a services-oriented approach, many of those problems are solved. Obviously, there’s still a lot of work to be done there and it’s not easy, but I’m not sure it’s going to get any easier until we get to the next phase of integrations technologies.”
The focus today is on data, and with volumes of enterprise data growing exponentially every year, integrating all of that information into existing applications has become a time-sensitive activity.
“If you look at data integrations specifically, that’s going from batch to real time,” said Hopkins. “Now we’re talking about integrating info and being able to access that info in real time. It’s going from finite to infinite.
“It used to be we’d talk about very discrete things, like processes and packaged applications—very discrete data sets. We need technology that allows us to deal with larger and larger scale, with more and more complexity. I think we’re going from integration that requires IT specialists to integration that can be done by business users. You see that in the data integration space, and also in the application integration space.”
Stephen O’Grady, an analyst with RedMonk, said that integrations have gotten easier over the years, thanks to the prevalence of SOA and APIs. “Part of it is the fact that integration has become a lot simpler. We have a lot more API volume, and a lot of the things that used to be one-off custom projects to integrate are now accessible via APIs,” he said.
“On top of that, I think the architectures have really caught up to and adjusted to that reality. It’s a lot easier today to take a couple APIs from a variety of different places and make an application out of that. That used to be a lengthy services-like engagement, and in some places they still are, but it is quite a lot easier to API-ify data sets and other integration points.”
Integrations should be easy
With simpler integrations comes the potential for simpler software to actually create and manage those integrations. Thus, many integrations companies are now offering point-and-click tools for building those integrations. These tools are aimed not only at mainline developers, but also at business analysts whose job it is to make sense of all this information overload.
Perhaps that’s why Dell last year acquired Boomi, an integrations company focused on self-serve, point-and-click, reusable integrations. Boomi is a product company, not a consulting services company, yet its products are all about data integrations.
Bob Moul, general manager of Dell Boomi, said that his company is focused on SaaS-based integrations rather than on putting boots on the ground inside an enterprise. “The quickest way to think of us is middleware in the cloud, or WebMethods in the cloud,” he said.
“You build deploy and manage integrations from the cloud. Boomi was the first to build an integrations platform in the cloud completely as SaaS.”
Moul said that more traditional integrations firms weren’t sure what to make of Boomi. “When we came out, they weren’t sure whether we were friend or foe. I was at EDS for 20 years, where you go on-site and you’re there for years. We’re shrinking that down, and projects are done in weeks.
“Companies like Bluewolf and Aperio are all about a different business model, which is about doing a higher volume of projects with a leveraged platform,” he said, referencing some other new integrations firms in the market.
Boomi the trailblazer
The model Boomi claims to have pioneered has spread to other firms. Pervasive, for example, recently introduced version 10 of its own integrations platform, which is also cloud-based. Pervasive, however, is focused on pushing its integrations platform into the channel, where its partners can wrap their own services and branding around the Pervasive capabilities. Still, Pervasive’s model is far from the consulting services that made up the bread and butter of integrations over the past 20 years.
Geoji George, director of product management at Pervasive, said that a big new area of interest for integrations customers is merging public and private clouds and data. “The challenge is not what we use, it’s the standards emerging. We need standards in both infrastructure and data compliance. Even if I could build an internal cloud, how do I keep track of where that data comes from?” he said.
“It’s more about data governance and federated data. How do I know the sources of my federated data? We’re working with some large SaaS providers now in an OEM role around security federation. Then the question is, how do I make this seamless to the user in multiple public clouds and private clouds? There’s work to be done, but it’s moving very fast. Some of the early attempts had the sense of ‘It’s not ready yet.’ ”
Pervasive’s multiple integrations products also take the point-and-click approach to designing integration pipelines. Lance Speck, senior director of integration sales and marketing at Pervasive, said that despite larger volumes of data and more complex problems to solve, integration deals no longer need to be multi-year, multi-million dollar engagements.
“I have this data all over the place. Maybe I have control over how it feeds in, maybe I don’t. In any case, for me to function correctly, I need to be able to speak to that first mile and last mile,” he said.
“It can’t be a big six-figure deal every time they need to do it. Especially when you get to the vendor endpoints. They have data in the cloud and data feeding in from partners. How do you get 4,000 clinics on board from the outside? The answer is, we’ve got to figure out how to solve that problem. We can’t make 4,000 calls, we can’t fly everywhere, nor train doctors to do it.”
With data everywhere and growing daily, the process for making it all understandable begins with integrations, and it often ends with a mass storage system, like Hadoop. And when integration is all about standard data transforms and pipelines, point-and-click tools become much more viable options, especially when those data sources are all commonly used instead of coming from proprietary applications developed at each individual enterprise.
One of the reasons Hopkins sees for the success of these new point-and-click integrations packages is that the business analysts are getting younger. “We have a whole generation now of people who grew up technically savvy,” he said.
“Ten years ago, and even five years ago, the mainstream body of non-IT folks grew up in a world where IT wasn’t the center of everything. People who cut their teeth on technology in the 90s and 2000s, they’re in the workforce more and more. Those people grew up on the Internet, and when they get into positions where they’re going to be doing analytics, they want tools that behave like the Web.”
To that end, most of the current crop of point-and-click integration tools are, in fact, Web-based. And despite a historically difficult path for uptake of technical solutions by business users, Hopkins remained confident that the future would yield more and more business users with the skill level needed to get their hands dirty with integrations.