Enterprise Application Integration: A Comprehensive Guide

6min read

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Modern businesses are increasingly application-driven, but you’re at risk of data silos and operational inefficiencies if those applications aren’t properly integrated.

Enterprise application integration is one way to build a more connected business environment and avoid prevalent data management pitfalls.

What is enterprise application integration (EAI)?

Enterprise application integration (EAI) is the process of connecting business systems and applications that don't natively communicate with each other. EAI uses technology to synchronize the databases and workflows for each application. That way, apps can work together efficiently using the same updated data set.

Why should you implement EAI?
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Chances are, your business uses software tools from a variety of vendors. These programs are integral to company operations, but they aren't always compatible.

When your enterprise applications can't talk to each other, you get data silos — data sets that are isolated to specific software programs. Your accounting software might have one set of numbers, while your inventory management platform has another.

This type of mismatched data creates the following risks for your business:

  • Workflow inefficiencies
  • Ineffective decision-making
  • Poor visibility

Small businesses often copy data between programs by hand to avoid silos. As your company grows, this process becomes untenable due to the required labor and the potential for human error.

That's where EAI comes in. It links all the enterprise application services in your supply chain, creating a few critical business benefits:

Data integration

EAI unites your application’s databases and enables them to exchange data. When you make a change in one app, it's automatically pushed out to every connected program.

User-friendly interface

In many types of EAI, employees can access all your applications from a single user interface. They can accomplish various tasks in one spot instead of switching between multiple apps. This model reduces training time, boosts efficiency, and creates a less disruptive app-onboarding process.

Flexible app selection

EAI implementation means you don't need to consider software compatibility when choosing new technologies. You're not tied to a single vendor; simply select the program best suited to your operations and objectives. The EAI connects your disparate apps and applies your business logic.

Improved automation

Automating repetitive business processes is easy when all your data and workflows operate in an integrated environment. You can even add automation to workflows involving multiple teams or applications since everyone uses the same central interface.

How does EAI work?

EAI uses a variety of on-premises and cloud-based technologies to connect your systems and applications.

Common options include:

  • Middleware: This type of software is designed to help incompatible applications talk to each other.
  • Application programming interface (API): API integrations help your programs work together to execute a function or exchange data.
  • Application integration platform: These platforms (often cloud-based) combine various middleware technologies to streamline the application integration process.

EAI technology can vary considerably from company to company — the right solution depends on your company's needs, budget, and operations. You might choose to integrate all of your enterprise applications or just a few.

5 types of EAI

EAI is flexible by nature; there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Many businesses use a few common types of EAI, such as the following:

1. Point-to-point integration

In a point-to-point integration, a custom script pulls data from one application and pushes it to another. Depending on how each app works, your integration might need to transform the data before sending it to the second program.

Point-to-point EAI is simple, meaning it’s effective for a straightforward workflow or a limited number of connections. However, it isn’t scalable; too many integrations can negatively affect performance and increase your development workload.

2. Hub-and-spoke integration

Picture this type of integration like a bicycle wheel. There's an application at the end of each spoke and a program at the hub. Data flows out of an app, down a spoke, and into the hub. The hub makes changes to the data and routes it to the other integrated apps.

A hub-and-spoke model is a simple way to connect multiple apps, but it comes with a higher upfront cost than point-to-point integrations. It's also important to note that if the hub fails, it affects the entire network.

3. Bus integration

This integration connects apps to a central software platform (bus) with an adapter. The adapter does most of the heavy lifting — applying a set of standards and protocols to transform the data and handle any necessary actions. Then, the information enters the bus and flows to the destination apps. The bus doesn't change the data; it's simply a pipeline.

This system makes it easy to plug in new apps — all you need to do is build an adapter. However, a bus integration requires extensive up-front programming and configuration.

4. Middleware integration

Middleware acts like a bridge between all your applications. This hidden layer lets apps communicate and share data using technologies and application integration software, such as web servers, messaging frameworks, cloud-based integration platforms, and runtime environments. You can customize a middleware integration to meet your company's exact needs.

5. Microservices

A microservices architecture is a way to build and integrate large applications using loosely coupled modular components instead of a monolithic infrastructure. Each module, or microservice, runs independently and handles a specific function. Since microservices aren't tied to a particular platform or technology, they allow fast, easy system integration using APIs.

This decentralized, scalable, and agile approach enables your business to evolve quickly. It can pose a significant change, though — especially if your company relies heavily on legacy applications.

How does EAI influence business growth?
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EAI streamlines operations, creating improvements that position your company for sustainable growth:

  • Enhanced data accessibility: In an integrated environment, employees, executives, and management information systems (MIS) professionals can make informed decisions based on accurate, real-time data.
  • Increased agility: A connected system helps your company resolve problems and respond to new opportunities as a single unit rather than disparate parts.
  • Improved efficiency: EAI facilitates automations, simplifies workflows, and prevents delays and bottlenecks due to incomplete, inaccurate, or inaccessible data.
  • Higher productivity: Employees are more productive and innovative when they're not chasing data or navigating complicated workflows.

Challenges of EAI

No solution is perfect. Before you embark on an EAI journey, plan for these common challenges:

  • Complex architecture: Connecting separate apps often requires a complicated architecture and multiple technologies. Expect to spend time and money on implementation, customization, maintenance, and troubleshooting.
  • Data security: An EAI implementation requires top-notch security measures to protect the proprietary, confidential, and sensitive information that flows through your system.
  • Scalability: It's crucial you invest in a system that can accommodate your current integration requirements and adapt to future growth.
  • Legacy applications: If your company relies on monolithic legacy applications, you may struggle to integrate them effectively with more modern programs — especially when you use both on-premises and cloud-based apps.
Optimize your data exchange with Orderful

EAI connects your core business apps and unifies internal workflows. A solid EAI implementation sets the stage for other operational optimizations, including electronic data interchange (EDI).

Speak to our EDI experts today to learn how Orderful can help you build an EDI-capable system that streamlines your data exchange processes.

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