Let’sTalk…Maximising Business Data – Custom Code Versus a Middleware Platform?

Written by Frank.Nesci@fusionfactory.com

Integration is one of many decisions for business executives when implementing a new business system. This has been complicated in recent years by the advent of SaaS applications. Besides deciding the level of integration required, business executives may need to decide whether to build custom code integration or buy a middleware platform.

There are a multitude of integration challenges that need to be considered when considering whether custom code or a middleware platform is the best approach.   These challenges could have a dramatic impact on the overall business strategy and return on investment.

The solution must be robust and able to manage the following challenges:

Changing Business Processes

A well-defined integration process needs to consider business processes that may change over time. Besides data transformation and rules for synchronising the data, the integration process needs to consider the business logic to accommodate the required business process. When these processes inevitably change, custom coded integration becomes increasingly cumbersome to manage.

Within a middleware platform, connections to systems are created using forms, business logic and workflows are defined graphically, and data mapping and transformations are deployed without coding.  Altering the configuration within the platform can rapidly change business processes.

Changing APIs & SaaS Integration

Every application has its own rules, nuances and method of integration — typically an API. To successfully integrate data with an application, you need to understand the workings of the API. If you choose a custom code integration, programmers need to learn how the API works for each application. Each API has its own programming language and even though an API utilises a standard, the API will have its own capability, schema, transaction rules and authentication method.

SaaS applications rely on APIs to integrate data. New versions of SaaS applications are frequently deployed providing enhanced functions and features. This requires changes to the API to accommodate the new functions and features. In some cases, an on-premise or SaaS application can be customised by the user with user defined fields and objects. This will also require customisation of the API. Every time an API is changed, custom coded integration may stop working and will need to be fixed by skilled programmers to accommodate the new API version.

Within a middleware platform, the configuration of the integration process can be rapidly altered to accommodate any changes to APIs.

Process Optimisation

Restrictions in application APIs help manage the performance and integrity of business applications. These restrictions compound the challenges and complexity of the integration process; some APIs require authentication calls before you connect to an application, other APIs limit the number of times you make a call to an application and the amount of data you send to an application in each call. The integration process needs to cater for the restrictions provided by each application in the integration process.

Custom coding to comply with API restrictions introduces significant complexity — which can hamper the performance of the integration process and any scalability.

Middleware platforms have features to help manage API restrictions by managing data into smaller acceptable data sets and the ability to process data sets in parallel streams. These features help process data faster and deliver an optimised solution without the pain of iterative development of custom code.

Integration Process Monitoring

A robust integration solution should provide monitoring and audit tools to manage error handling and logging mechanism for managing information about the integration processes. The solution should proactively send notifications when an error occurs or an integration process that requires attention by appropriate people.

Monitoring and auditing tools are essential to pinpoint what error has occurred within the integration process and how to fix it. Detailed logs will capture all information associated with connections, transformations and workflows.

Custom coded integrations require programmers to build monitoring and audit tools to manage error handling and logging functions. Typically the delivery of these functions is evolutionary as the business optimises the integration process.

A robust integration platform has built in monitoring and audit tools which automatically detect errors, log information about the integration process and send notifications to appropriate people. Configuring additional customised error handling and notifications in the platform for each individual integration process can further enhance the integration solution.

Conclusion. Middleware Platforms — The True Advantage.

Many business executives believe that integration is a simple process of moving data from Point A to Point B. They evaluate an integration solution by looking at the upfront costs of custom coded integration versus middleware platforms, usually with a short-term solution in mind.

Middleware platforms can be far more cost effective in the short and long-term — helping manage both short-term requirements and long-term goals while delivering a rapid return on investment (ROI) for the business.