Does your company have an integration strategy?

The need to integrate things, people, teams, resources, business units, offices and everything in-between presents itself as a corporate imperative all the time - but integration platform specialist MuleSoft is making a case for a more dedicated approach to integration aligned to building ‘automations’ designed to save money and accelerate business.

Four brown pieces of puzzle stand on wooden table representing integration

Full disclosure and spoiler alert, the answer to our question is yes, no, maybe and it depends. Of course, every company has some form of integration strategy. The need to integrate things, people, teams, resources, business units, offices and everything in-between presents itself as a corporate imperative all the time.

But integration happens at various levels, so we need to break this question down to a more elemental level and examine how integration plays out at the coalface of business, which, in the age of digital, clearly means IT integration.

Beyond business integration

This question extends beyond ‘simple’ business integration, but it does not exclude the corporate practice of integrating distinct and separate parts of an organisation's operational fabric.

To explain what that means, we’re not talking about mergers and acquisitions, but we are talking about how companies fuse together the DNA of their various applications, data sources and devices - some of which will naturally lead to new connections in the case of any form of corporate conjoinment.

The question really should be, does your company have an IT integration strategy? In which case the answer, more surprisingly perhaps, is still yes, no, maybe and it depends.

Into IT integration

Every firm with a dedicated IT department (and those that don’t, but choose to buy-in an IT service function) has some level of established integration practice. But today, in the fragmented world of componetised and containerised disaggregated cloud services, specialist operators are making a call for a dedicated approach to digital integration.

This is the space where MuleSoft operates. Acquired by Salesforce in 2018, MuleSoft now functions as the integration engine behind every Salesforce Cloud instance.

Although aligned to function inside the Salesforce platform, MuleSoft has pledged to uphold its ‘application network vision’ that stems from and gravitates around its original product, the MuleSoft Anypoint Platform, which can be used to integrate and connect any enterprise software application, any data set and any type of device - all whether it touches Salesforce or not.

Having spent much of the pandemic period focused on augmenting its product offering, the company used its MuleSoft CONNECT 2022 conference this summer in New York to explain how its solution now includes Robotic Process Automation (RPA) functions that deliver no-code capabilities to automate repetitive manual tasks using bots, which here come in the shape of MuleSoft RPA.

This technology emanates from Salesforce’s acquisition of a company called Servicetrace in 2021 and works to allow users to connect data together from other information systems (MuleSoft offers Workday, Slack and Stripe as prime examples, but that list is not exhaustive) all using its own tool, MuleSoft Composer.

Officially known as MuleSoft Composer for Salesforce, this is a software function that allows users to simply click (as opposed to code) and so create automated integrations.

What is an automated integration?

By now, you may (hopefully) be asking what exactly is an automated integration and what are automations in general? This is exactly the right question to ask.

Imagine worker A. This person uses a corporate billing system to send out company invoices from a largely custom-built in-house software solution. In reality, the firm probably uses a platform solution for billing, but let’s say it’s a standalone bespoke system to make the point of separation.

Let’s also say that our worker needs financial accounts data from NetSuite, an ERP record from an SAP system, a database record from an Oracle deployment and perhaps a quick look at a Tableau visualisation. 

To get access to those data streams, worker A has to speak to the system administrator (sysadmin) responsible for each enterprise software system, wait for the sysadmin to relay that request to the core IT function… and then wait for the hard coding to go on to create integrated system connections. This is what MuleSoft CEO & GM Brent Hayward calls the ‘long tail’ of IT, where tasks often languish for way too long and sometimes never get done.

Where MuleSoft comes in is the process of integration to create access to those sources automatically, which it now accelerates with the provision of RPA software bots. The bot observes the steps required to get data out of those often heavily forms-based system applications, integrates it and encodes it into what we can call an automation.

In an ideal MuleSoft universe, our worker uses MuleSoft RPA functions in MuleSoft Composer for Salesforce directly inside of the Salesforce user interface (UI) and, concurrently, the job runs in line with Salesforce Flow, the company’s low-code process automation technology. But as stated previously, MuleSoft can be used in environments that do not necessarily touch Salesforce.

Welcome, citizen integrators

“With the new iteration of MuleSoft that we have announced at CONNECT 2022, you can automate anything. But automation has to work in an end-to-end style, meaning business teams need to be part of the process so that automations truly work for the business use case they are being created for,” said MuleSoft head of product Stephen Hsu.

This is precisely why MuleSoft is now presented as a more forcibly unified solution for automation, integration and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Welcoming what we would call non-technical citizen integrators into the fold, there are specific no-code capabilities here to automate repetitive manual tasks.

While the techie purists will still sometimes baulk at the prospect of citizen coders, citizen data scientists and (in this case) citizen integrators, the message from the industry at large is - please relax, we’re doing this safely and working to make your job easier and higher value. The existence of these tools has to happen in line with managed process controls; with MuleSoft, that manifests itself as a common governance policy.

Go granular, not atomic

So by now, we’ve moved our notion of integration from company-level alliances, unions and coalitions down to a more granular level of application and workflow data fusion points.

Global field CTO for MuleSoft Matt McLarty works with the company’s customer base to guide them through crucial aspects of digital transformation that will feature integration to deliver automations. So does he know where to concentrate the focal point of work effort in this space?

Granularity is good, agrees McLarty, but it’s important to keep the integration team focused on the platform-level task at hand. If one or other team member wants to cross off every t and dot every i on each binary node, then that’s almost certainly what McLarty calls ‘too atomic’ in terms of the detail level here. After all, MuleSoft works to simplify these tasks.

Whether a typical company would have a policy for integration at every level from corporate acquisitions down to API automations is questionable. But this is the breadth of what integration means today, it is a process that starts in the front office at the customer level, moves to heavily populate the middle office layer, then onwardly works to influence how efficient the back office function really is.

If now asked, does your company have an integration strategy? The answer is yes, several of them.