Developers spent much of the last decade building APIs to help connect their applications. These APIs were primarily used to connect applications within an enterprise to automate processes. As we enter 2020, companies are increasingly taking application integration to the next level, leveraging powerful new technologies to quickly and easily integrate their apps with entire ecosystems of applications used by their customers and partners.
This is unleashing a new kind of innovation, one where enterprises and software companies alike are spinning up entirely new, integrated products that deliver better experiences for everyone. My company is an API integration platform, and I have seen firsthand how ecosystems have already begun to influence and change the tech and processes we use today. Here are my predictions for how application integration and ecosystems will affect the world in 2020.
The nature of work has changed.
A decade ago, many business processes could be completed end to end within a single application. It’s a lot different nowadays. Processes extend across multiple applications and lines of businesses, some of which aren’t even owned by the enterprise but belong to customers and partners.
Consider the simple act of bringing a new employee into a company. This now involves interactions between dozens of applications. You might go from an applicant tracking app to a background check service to a human capital system. And then once they’re in the HR system, they need to be added to the payroll system, connected with the benefits provider, enrolled in learning management, provided with the necessary equipment and so on.
‘Ecosystem innovation’ is set to explode.
The good news is, we’ve entered into a new era, one where application integration is no longer the time-consuming, costly burden that we’d all grown to begrudgingly accept. Now, the landscape is changing. For example, prebuilt integrations and new tools are available that can simplify and accelerate application integration directly from the application provider.
In many cases, these integrations are becoming the central feature of new digital product offerings. For example, consider what Nintex is doing with its workflow automation software. Nintex can handle anything from simple business operations to more complex and intricate workflows that aid how companies tackle their integrations with apps. (Full disclosure: Nintex is a customer of the author’s company.)
I believe this trend will continue to pick up strength and will help to unleash a burst of innovation, one in which enterprises and software companies rapidly create entirely new, integrated products that deliver better experiences.
An API is now considered table stakes.
During the past decade, it was enough to just provide an API. This is the foundation for connectivity and interoperability, but an API on its own doesn’t accomplish the synchronization of data that is required to automate business processes.
In 2020 and beyond, application providers will shoulder more of the burden of integration beyond providing an API. Instead, they will increasingly offer integration platforms to facilitate reusable integration, essentially embedding integration services as a connectivity layer in every application, just as products like Twilio provide a communication layer for software applications.
Challenges will yield new opportunities for product owners.
It’s no longer sufficient to build a digital product “in a vacuum,” without considering the application ecosystem that it must function within. But the barriers are technical, organizational and even cultural.
The old approach to product planning focused on the features and functions required to complete a task or process all under the control of the product owner’s application. The application controlled everything in its domain, and the user was responsible to figure out how to make it work with other applications. The responsibility for integration was thrust upon the buyer of the application.
The complexity increases further based on the fact that no two implementations of large-scale applications are the same. Customer data, custom fields and customized workflows are becoming the norms as business applications are tuned in each implementation. This dynamic of variability requires architectural design skills to normalize the interactions and abstract away the differences between apps to minimize variations and to provide a consistent experience regardless of the applications being used.
The organizational challenges increase as well. Leaders will need to ask themselves: How do I test each of these combinations? Do I establish formal relationships with these application providers? Who owns those relationships — the product owner or the alliance team? Any individual or company building digital products will need to rise to the challenge, putting their ecosystems at the center of their thinking.
Integrations will create better experiences.
In my opinion, integrations power better experiences. It can be something simple like using Shazam to identify a song you hear on the radio and have it automatically show up in your Spotify library. Or it can be something more complex in the workplace, where integrations streamline workflows and facilitate data flowing seamlessly across dozens to hundreds of applications.
At Western Union, the company’s EDGE platform is an integrated digital B2B payment platform that seamlessly connects buyers and sellers. But EDGE also integrates into ERP systems in order to translate payment data to different applications within an ecosystem. (Full disclosure: Western Union is a customer of the author’s company.)
More and more companies understand that integrations are core to their value proposition. Slack recently announced new integrations with Salesforce, as “part of its ongoing push to bolster connections with other ‘best of breed’ cloud apps.” Box recently announced a new integration with Adobe to “connect collaborative workflows for enterprises who rely on Box and Adobe, making it easier and more secure to work with digital documents in the cloud.”
Whether it’s connecting the many disparate apps required to manage the workforce in a big enterprise, or it’s fintechs and traditional finserv players vying to create the next killer application, I predict that 2020 will be the biggest year yet for “productized integrations” that leverage the power of the ecosystem to deliver great new experiences to end users.