Application integration is the process of enabling individual applications—each designed for its own specific purpose—to work with one another. By merging and optimizing data and workflows between multiple software applications, organizations can achieve integrations that modernize their infrastructures and support agile business operations.
Application integration helps bridge the gap between existing on-premises systems and fast-evolving cloud-based enterprise applications. Through seamlessly interconnected processes and data exchanges, application integration allows enterprises to orchestrate a variety of functions across their entire infrastructures, enabling businesses to operate more effectively and efficiently.
When an organization considers moving forward with application integration, there are various components required to orchestrate processes between two or more applications successfully.
An API is a set of functions and procedures that specify how software components should interact. They allow developers to easily and quickly access the functionality of other software through well-defined data structures and have, as a result, become a popular way of integrating applications, data, and services, in recent years.
An event is an occurence in your connected applications—such as a payment being received. An event then triggers an action or series of actions, which can include standard functionality—like creating, retrieving, or updating datasets—and be application-specific—such as a new case being creating in Salesforce.
Data mapping specifies the information exchange that's to be used. For example, when you complete and submit contact forms in one application, this event can trigger actions that map those form fields to other corresponding datasets on other applications, categorizing the information entered into first name, last name, status, etc. This simplifies the process of exporting data for easier grouping and analysis.
In discussions about the importance of integrated applications and services in an enterprise setting, the terms "application integration" and "data integration" are sometimes used interchangeably. However, the concept and use cases behind each of these processes are very different.
Data integration is the practice of locating and retrieving information from various sources while combining that information into a unified structure and view. Also referred to as batch-based data processing, data integration involves collecting an extensive amount of data over time, storing it, and then eventually processing it in batches. Data integration isn't necessarily conducted in real-time. It is commonly used after processes have been completed, so it can provide administrators the data portability they need to analyze application performance over time, eliminate redundancies, and ensure data consistency and quality.
Application integration is different from data integration in that it directly links multiple applications at a functional level. Application data may be linked in near real-time, allowing organizations to create dynamic and highly adaptable applications and services.
There are a number of proven application integration styles that can be used independently or in combination—from modern API-led integration where business IT assets can be exposed and discovered in a rapid and secure way, to more traditional service-oriented architecture (SOA), where different applications are integrated using a communication layer or ‘bus’ between them. This allows enterprises to orchestrate integration flows that trigger after events occur in one application to the next. Because of these real-time interactions, enterprises are able to stay agile, responding to new data feeds or performance issues as they occur, rather than after the fact.
There are many complexities that integration can resolve, but what are the other benefits? Integration provides value both on an organizational level as well as an operational level— if you choose the right integration tool.
Integrating your applications across various clouds is an important step toward synchronizing your data. However, you need an integration tool that allows deployment of integration runtimes within multiple clouds. This allows you to deploy close to your applications, resulting in lower latency times as processes run directly within the cloud and lower costs from not needing to move data in and out of platforms.
The right application tool can also yield important timesaving, cost-cutting, and performance-enhancing operational benefits:
As more and more organizations concentrate on deploying agile integration strategies, modernizing legacy systems is a primary focus. Industry-specific examples include the following:
Organizations in any industry can leverage mission-critical systems through integration:
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Integrate data, build APIs, act on events and connect apps with IBM® App Connect, an application integration software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that unlocks the value of your systems data, faster.
Evaluate your integration maturity level across critical dimensions, and discover the actions you can take to get your organization the next level.
Read about agile integration architectures and the merits of a container-based, microservices-aligned approach for integrating applications and services.