Integrations of 3rd-party services have a major impact on the customer and end-user experience, but are often thought of as a technology-only challenge. The rise of composable enterprise architecture means that companies have a wider range of services to choose from than ever before, and that integrating these services is a critical piece to business success.
Integrations in a Composable World
In their announcement of the top strategic technology trends for 2022, Gartner states:
“In the continuously changing business context, demand for business adaptability directs organizations toward technology architecture that supports fast, safe, and efficient application change. Composable application architecture empowers such adaptability, and those that have adopted a composable approach will outpace the competition by 80% in the speed of new feature implementation.”
Composable tools share data in a well-defined way, typically via APIs, which allows services to be mixed, matched, and adapted based on business needs. This gives the freedom to do things like switch frontend frameworks while using the same CMS or replace your product search without having to rip-and-replace your entire commerce platform. We believe in this freedom of choice and are certified members of the MACH Alliance for good reason.
Integration projects have traditionally been long and expensive, but with composable Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), an integration can be up and running in a few weeks. Going composable keeps companies from being “locked-in” to any single service provider, and gives them speed and negotiating power to make more strategic decisions about which services to integrate. Examples of services/integrations are payment service providers (PSP), logistics providers, product ratings, on-site search, and a multitude of other services that are running “under the hood” of any transactional platform.
An Essential Part of Project Inception
At the start of any project, my colleagues and I make it a point to understand how the client’s business runs. This gives us context for the technical considerations of a project as well as an idea of which integrations (a.k.a. internal and external services) are crucial to the business model and which can be reevaluated.
A migration project (e.g. from SAP Hybris to commercetools) is a good moment to evaluate integrated services because you’re already touching your platform, so there is some freedom to make changes. Instead of replicating integrations one-to-one to the new platform, there’s an opportunity to clear up both technical and business debt. Has your business model or your customers’ expectations changed since the integration was first added? Does the service fit your current needs, or is it time to change?
This evaluation is also a chance to look at innovation happening at the service providers you already integrate with. Maybe they are solving new market problems in more beneficial ways, or at a fraction of the cost as other providers. Or they might have additional services you could take advantage of that you weren’t aware they offered.
You’ll likely keep the majority of your integrations and services the same, but a quick evaluation in the inception phase of a project helps teams make informed decisions that can turn integration from roadblocks to transformation enablers.
Integration Evaluation Framework
Let’s use a setting we often see at our clients to make it more tangible. Let’s say the client is a B2B player that already has a significant online business running on its end-of-life Hybris platform. They have chosen to migrate towards a composable solution like commercetools. To complement Hybris functionalities, they are currently using internal and external services (e.g. for credit checks, payment, logistics, search, content management, etc.) that complement Hybris functionalities and would like to evaluate if these services are still the right choice going forward.
Having looked at our client’s current integrations top-down from the goals of the business and bottom-up from the requirements of their existing systems, we’ll have a good idea of what services will definitely remain the same and which are worth reassessing. For the latter, here is a light framework to run through to quickly evaluate each integration.
This assessment can be very pragmatic. Business and technology stakeholders can first generate a spreadsheet of all integrations and services they intend to use. Then classify each of these as keep, check, or replace to narrow down the scope of work. The stakeholders assess each “check” and “replace” line along aspects two to five. The use of sub-aspects and a grading system is very helpful here. Finally, there is a quantitative assessment of each integration that will indicate the most beneficial and future-proof way forward for the company.
Tackle the Hardest Parts First
When implementing a new system, it can be tempting to do the more eye-catching frontend pieces first. Especially when there is a need to present early progress to less technical teams that expect a nice-looking screen. However, the easy-to-build screens should be saved until after the more challenging task of getting the right data at the right speed from your architecture to that screen.
Integrations can be tricky and are often the most difficult part of a project. Tackling them first gives time to react to unforeseen issues, work through complexities like systems of record and order of operations, and identify early on if there are any dependent processes that will need to be updated in parallel.
At Mindcurv we know that integrations can make or break a digital transformation project, so we make sure to understand both the technical requirements and business impact of the projects we work on. We approach digital solutions from all sides, with multidisciplinary teams on hand to help guide projects from strategy to execution to long-term operations. If you’re looking for a partner for your B2B transformation, we’d be happy to chat.
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