Frictionless Integration

* 5 min read
For retailers and FMCG brand owners, as is the case with pretty much any business that you may come across; to bring a product or service to life there is normally a plethora of different people and processes needed. The result of this of course is also an abundance of IT systems to support them.

Implementing these processes and setting up IT solutions will often comprise of many months of planning, review and user acceptance to get them working perfectly.

Once systems work like a “well-oiled machine” there is very little desire to change. Indeed, change can actually be seen as detrimental to a particular function, rather than viewed as an improvement to the overall end-to-end process. For example, the marketing team may be attached to their Digital Asset Management platform, and Artworkers may prefer a different one. Trying to consolidate could lead to dissatisfaction and counter intuitively a drop in productivity for the functions effected.

Historically, processes and therefore their associated systems and data have been created in ringfenced silos. In many cases additional people have been needed to “manually integrate” data, exporting it from one system to another using spreadsheets, or worse still retyping!

Obviously, this is not only wasteful and time consuming, but worse still can lead to errors which if not detected, add cost and can potentially damage reputations. To mitigate these errors additional checks are needed adding further time and cost.

For the end-to-end processes to operate seamlessly, different areas will share common master data elements around common components such as metadata, assets, and project planning, to name only a few. So, it makes perfect sense to try to reuse data as much as possible and ensure that there is one source of the truth, and everything is kept in sync. However:

Big scale digital transformation projects with an aim of consolidating all the moving functions of a process together into a single ‘all singing all dancing’ monolith platform are generally very costly, take elongated periods of time to complete and are resisted by the day-to-day users. It is estimated that over 50% of system replacement projects fail on average.

But there is another way…

The concept of integrated systems is not a new one. APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) have been around since the early 2000’s, first used by SalesForce and eBay. For the uninitiated, an API is a set of functions or procedures used by computer programs to access services from other applications.

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Initially APIs were built with the specific goal of connecting system A to system B using specific protocols and strictly mapped parameters. These were difficult to implement and subject to breaking easily. Changes to one system could easily stop it communicating with the other until reciprocal changes were made at the other end.

But more recently architectural styles such as REST (REpresentational State Transfer) have significantly simplified building APIs, by using standards which represent human interactions with the system as verb commands such as GET, PUT or DELETE followed by the data or action to be performed.

However, the most recent revolution is bridging tools and connectors such as Azure Logic Apps. Where API development has previously been Code-First requiring the need to understand a programming language, Azure Logic Apps is Designer-First allowing, for example a Business Analyst, to visually design the interactions between systems. Indeed out-of-the-box connectors now exist for a multitude of systems which allow integration to be as simple as ‘plug-and-play’.

At Sun Strategy we generally recommend using Azure Logic Apps to manage the overall front-end orchestration and to extend further with point solutions based on Azure Functions for more complex business and/or data transformation logic.

Our e-bridge connectors for our e-flow and e-halo platforms both heavily lean on these technologies and general solution architecture.

For our customers we are able to increase efficiency through these highly integrated systems by rapidly accelerating the lead time of implementation, allowing siloed systems to be brought together easily to ensure that data is re-used, its integrity is maintained and most importantly enabling effective business decision making through the transparency of data.

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About the author

imageedit 1 6168940299Robert Quigley - Technology Innovator

Rob joined Sun Strategy in 2009 after a decade running outsource offshore technical service desks for the telecommunications industry. Rob spent several years as a Professional Services consultant working initially with a major UK retailer, executing an end-to-end Product & Artwork Management platform project; followed by implementation of a global artwork system for a blue-chip pharma and household brand owner. With a strong interest in technology innovation, when the opportunity arose to reimagine Sun Strategy’s tools in a ground up, cloud-first redevelopment - Rob took the lead of the technology team, spearheading a 3-year re-platforming project which has advanced our Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) proposition and concurrently enhanced the flexibility and effectiveness of our internal business.

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