Applications integration (or enterprise application integration) is the sharing of processes and data among different applications in an enterprise. For both small and large organizations alike, it has become a mission-critical priority to connect disparate applications and leverage application collaboration across the enterprise in order to improve overall business efficiency, enhance scalability, and reduce IT costs.
Logical Process Integration
With business process integration, the logical processes required by an enterprise to conduct its business are mapped onto its IT assets, which often reside in different parts of the enterprise and increasingly, the cloud. By identifying individual actions in a workflow and approaching their IT assets as a meta-system (i.e. a system of systems), enterprises can use applications integration to define how individual applications will interact in order to automate crucial business processes, resulting in the faster delivery of goods and services to customers, reduced chances for human error, and lower operational costs. Business process integration thus supports a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), which promotes the development of composite applications through the use of existing services (i.e. individual units of functionality) within the enterprise.
Data Process Integration
Aside from business process integration, data integration is also required for successful applications integration. If an application can’t exchange and understand data from another application, inconsistencies can arise and business processes become less efficient. Data integration is achieved by either writing code that enables each application to understand data from other applications in the enterprise or by making use of an intermediate data format that can be interpreted by both sender and receiver applications. The latter approach is preferable over the former since it scales better as enterprise systems grow in size and complexity. In both cases, access, interpretation, and data transformation are important capabilities for successfully integrating data.
Underlying business process and data integration is communications-level integration. This refers to how different applications within an enterprise talk to each other, either through file transfer, request/reply methods, or messaging. In many cases, applications weren’t designed to communicate with each other, requiring technologies for enabling such communication. These include Application Programming Interfaces (API’s), which specify how applications can be called, and connectors that act as intermediaries between applications. At the communications level it is also important to consider the architecture of interactions between applications, which can be integrated according to a point-to-point model, hub-and-spoke approach, or Enterprise Service Bus (ESB).