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Integration on the Edge: Data Explosion & Next-Gen Integration

Hollis Tibbetts

Cloud-based Application Integration Gains Momentum with "iApps"

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Real-time application integration is picking up speed in the Cloud.  MuleSoft and Zuora just made a significant announcement on this front - one that validates the need for Cloud-based Application Integration, and shows that market is gaining momentum. 

Reading between the lines, this announcement is much more interesting that that - but you'll have to read further to see how this announcement represents the beginning of a trend that will widely benefit organization that build or use SaaS applications.  

As I wrote in "Application Integration in the Cloud - Finally Here", Cloud-based application integration is a new thing - with MuleSoft's iON integration platform being the first full-function entrant. 

Zuora, as you may know, is a big and very rapidly growing fish in the "subscriptions billing and management" pond.  Many segments of our economy and our lives are transitioning to a subscription model, and Zuora has become known as the "Salesforce of online billing".  Keep an eye on them.

To really understand the significance of why this announcement is interesting, it's very helpful to get a perspective on why Data Integration and Application Integration are different.  If you already know, feel free to skip the "Taking a Step Back..." section.

Taking A Step Back...

I don't mean to confuse people:

Cloud-based DATA integration has been around for a while, pioneered by companies like (Dell) Boomi and SnapLogic, who created highly functional, very easy to use software and delivered it with a subscription "pay as you go" pricing model.  It was made mainstream by data integration giant Informatica with their "Informatica Cloud".

But Cloud-based APPLICATION Integration is new (and important).

Don't get me wrong - I'm a big proponent of Cloud-based Data Integration, but Data Integration doesn't solve every integration problem out there. 

Data Integration and real-time Application Integration are very different animals - as I've written in my article "Confusion in the Cloud - Application vs. Data Integration".  As useful as Data Integration is, there are times when Application Integration is clearly called for.

To give a pretty clear example of the difference between the two integration methods, here are two scenarios:

Data Integration systems are batch-oriented in nature - that is to say, they move data between systems on a scheduled basis.  That schedule might be once a month, once a day, once an hour, or every few minutes.  But it's not done in real-time.  It may also transform, cleanse, standardize or enrich the data along the way.  As the name suggests, these integration products are focused on the data.For example - I recently spoke to a company who uses Cloud-based Data Integration to copy data from Salesforce and ZenDesk several times a day into a Cloud-based Business Intelligence/Dashboard system - one of the most common use cases for this type of product.

Application Integration systems are typically "real-time" and event-based in nature.  These integrations are typically business process oriented - that is to say, as soon as "something happens" in the originating application, for example, when a customer orders a product, it triggers the integration platform to do something - perhaps check to see if the customer is on "credit hold" for some reason. It's the automation of a business process that spans multiple operational systems, and the real-time nature is often very important. 

Back on Track....

What MuleSoft and Zuora have done is to create a pre-packaged set of commonly used business processes for doing subscription-based business. 

These are business processes which span multiple operational systems - like eCommerce applications and Billing, or eCommerce and Taxation, or eCommerce and Accounting. MuleSoft calls these pre-packaged integrations "Integration Applications" - or iApps for short.

These are more than just an adapter or a connector - they are connectivity as well as "best practices" pre-built processes, all packaged together.   No software installation required - it's all Cloud. 

The Zuora-MuleSoft partnership has resulted in the development of 3 of these iApps:

·         Store iApp - providing eCommerce applications with pre-built processes for things like new subscription, upgrade, downgrade, cancellation;

·         Tax iApp - integrates Zuora with corporate tax applications, including Avalara, Billsoft, and others, streamlining the process of applying taxes in the subscription invoicing process;

·         Accounting iApp- integrates Zuora with corporate accounting systems, both on-premises and in the cloud (e.g. Workday, Intacct, Netsuite, Quickbooks Online, etc.);


The idea of creating pre-packaged integration modules is not new.  CrossWorlds (now part of IBM) and Active Software (acquired by webMethods - subsequently acquired by SoftwareAG) have both attempted this back in the late 90's and early 2000's (and didn't have much success getting them to work).


What makes MuleSoft'siApps approach different is that they're partnering with best-of-breed vendors such as Zuora to create the pre-packaged integrations.  This is a strategy that is far superior and is likely to be successful.  

Additionally, old-style on-premises systems like Siebel or SAP were highly customized for each implementation.  It was not unusual for a company to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Siebel, and then spend five times that on consultants to implement and customize it - including significant extensions to processes and data models.  Many customers would delay software version upgrades for years, in part because of these customizations.  

Today's SaaS applications simply lend themselves more to a "pre-packaged integration" approach because of their standard services-based interfaces, and because every customer uses the same version of the SaaS application.


Pre-built integration processes like MuleSoft's iApps are now possible - and the right way to build them is by having Cloud Application Integration platform vendors partner with domain experts in each functional area - either SaaS software vendors (like Zuora) or consulting firms who specialize in implementation of those SaaS applications.


Why This Announcement is Interesting

This announcement is interesting from a number of perspectives, it:

1)      Shows that the Cloud-based Application Integration market is gaining traction.  When notable up-and-comers like Zuora start investing their time and effort in Cloud-based Application Integration, that's an important signal.  

2)      Demonstrates the acknowledged need for Application Integration in the Cloud.  Business Processes such as Taxation calculation and Provisioning need to be done in real-time in the eCommerce world. Commerce leaders like Zuora clearly understand that.

3)      Proves that the "Packaged Business Integrations"  (iApps) idea was a good one, and it does work - if the right partners work together.  In this case, MuleSoft knows integration and Zuora understands the business processes.  Jointly, a successful iApp is created.

Who Benefits?

This is a win-win scenario for both MuleSoft and Zuora - and a huge win for their potential customers. 

For MuleSoft, it helps move them away from the dreaded "middleware technology" quagmire and towards the "packaged business solution" oasis.  This has been the dream of many middleware vendors for years - but rarely achieved (unless you count PowerPoint presentations and Website verbiage that try to pretend that custom integration implementations are really a solution). 

For Zuora, it will give their solution a big competitive advantage.  Their product now has "greater value" to customers.  It will be easier (and faster) to sell - because of the numerous customer benefits listed below.  Their customers will require less assistance and support before and after the sale - and will almost certainly have higher levels of satisfaction (resulting in higher retention rates).

For Customers, it will significantly reduce the risk, effort and expense to implement integrated business processes.  It will make the integration easier to accomplish - effectively reducing the skillset requirements. 

But the biggest (and most measurable) win for customers is that it will result in tremendously faster "time to benefit".  

The integration phase of SaaS implementation is almost always the longest part of putting a SaaS application into production - a typical SaaS application requires about 3 calendar months to integrate into the various necessary systems already in use. These prepackaged integrations will likely reduce time that by 80 or 90 percent.   As a result, these companies will be able to move their systems into production faster - and speed to market is a driving force behind successful companies. 

The Verdict: Wins - all the way around.  All choices should be this easy.

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This blog offers an informed and informative perspective on the ongoing explosion of data and the technologies used to turn this data explosion into assets and competitive advantages.

Hollis Tibbetts

Hollis Tibbetts, or @SoftwareHollis as his 50,000+ followers know him on Twitter, is listed on various “top 100 expert lists” for a variety of topics – ranging from Cloud to Technology Marketing, Hollis is by day Evangelist & Software Technology Director at Dell's Global Software Group. By night and weekends he is a commentator, speaker and all-round communicator about Software, Data and Cloud in their myriad aspects. His latest communication venture is http://OnlineBackupNews.com - a free resource site to help organizations protect their data, applications and systems by providing online backup best practices, technology insights, strategies, real-world examples and various tips and techniques from a variety of industry experts.

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