This is part of Solutions Review’s Premium Content Series, a collection of contributed columns written by industry experts in maturing software categories. In this submission, Exalate CEO Francis Martens offers a complete introduction to cross-company integrations.
Businesses are constantly adapting to the changing environment. Technology needs to evolve rapidly while companies must be able to collaborate seamlessly. When it comes to digital transformation initiatives, software integration has risen to the top of the priority list.
The next step is to integrate into a worldwide network of connected companies that collaborate in a structured manner. This will enable teams and organizations to cooperate more effectively, stay ahead of the competition, and meet the needs of customers and businesses.
Task Management Systems to Become a Commodity in the Near Future
Everyone nowadays keeps a list of tasks to complete, track, and report on. And people keep track of these tasks in their own manner, whether it’s through emails, spreadsheet line entries, or personal task list managers like Trello, Google Tasks, or Microsoft To-Do.
But personal task lists are no longer sufficient when working in a team on a shared project. Team members need to exchange statuses, discuss details or manage workload. When you get to this point, it’s time to bring in a task management system like monday.com, Freshdesk, Jira, ServiceNow, or Salesforce, among many others.
These tools make it possible to get a good overview of a project, tracking progress, assign tasks to different team members, and set deadlines, all while ensuring that work is completed in an efficient and coordinated manner.
Over the period of the pandemic, the number of companies venturing into a digital transformation, installing and using this kind of technology has increased significantly. When people were limited to working from home, the demand for task registration in some systems skyrocketed – the whiteboards with post-it notes no longer work. Businesses started leveraging task management systems to effectively track time, generate project status reports, and keep a good handle on who is doing what and by when. And of course to achieve efficiency.
For example, a project manager might focus on managing tasks rather than gathering the information needed to execute these tasks. By employing the commenting feature, the details of a task can be recorded inside the context of the task itself rather than being scattered across
multiple locations. And if the tool is used consistently, setting milestones and evaluating plan changes becomes much simpler.
Prioritization and task management are both key components of a project, so technologies for task management and project management are merging.
Because of the efficiency gain, the number of companies using this technology is growing at a whopping 30% per year, and Grandviewresearch predicts that this market will grow to 55B Usd in 2028.
It essentially means that task management systems – like many other tools – will become a commodity in the near future.
The Need for Cross-Company Integrations
Many professional services companies specializing in task management system deployment, who are at the forefront of digital transformation, have seen the advantages that these tools provide. But they have also discovered an interesting challenge.
Once you have implemented a proper task management system internally, you will want to extend the efficiency gains to your external partners. “Partners” in this sense refer to all the businesses you work with on a regular basis and with whom you need to exchange information in a structured manner.
Currently, for many companies, most of this information exchange is done through email, spreadsheets, virtual meetings, or such. And a great deal of information is lost since not everyone has the discipline to keep the related tasks up to date in their own environment.
Many of the benefits of task management systems are lost when working outside corporate borders because of delays and miscommunication. This can at some point cause bottlenecks and even friction.
One solution is to invite the other team to use your own system. However, there are two key reasons why businesses are reluctant to make that step: security and scalability.
Managing project information stored in multiple systems is next to impossible. When a service provider is required to work on multiple systems, then there is a high chance they are going to be stuck with a huge organizational challenge.
The best way to make sure everything runs smoothly is to have your team work with your processes in your own environment.
Then how do you resolve this friction? You need a way to integrate your partners’ work management systems with your own so that tasks raised in your partner’s environment can be resolved in yours. The integration ensures that everyone remains up to date in a secure manner.
An Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) solution can be the way forward here. With iPaaS, you can standardize how data flows between the different systems and how teams/ companies communicate with one another.
Plus, you can streamline business processes, relieving companies of the effort of building in-house integrations or adopting the native capabilities, because an iPaaS solution is going to be much more cost-effective.
One thing is certain: the demand for cross-company integrations will increase exponentially. It is a logical extension of the digital transformation that many businesses are undergoing.
Yet, integrating systems is not an easy journey, but its outcome is going to be a beneficial one.
The Integration Journey – Challenges and Benefits
Consider a digital agency that is in charge of carrying out a customer’s marketing campaign(s).
There is a need for cross-company integration to build a bridge between the customer tracker and the digital agency tracker.
Integration within an organization is already a significant undertaking. You must first align the processes and ensure proper mapping between the two environments. Next, get the implementation done in an easy-to-maintain manner. There is also the question of security.
Then, once the integration is operational, various types of difficulties arise – data was out of sync due to a hiccup; or the mapping was incorrectly completed, causing a return to the drawing board. As a result, many CIOs consider integration projects as something to avoid.
Cross-company integrations involve the same challenges, and they are even more complex because every organization has its own environment, information models, workflows, escalation paths, security governance, permissions, and more.
For architectural reasons, integration solutions designed for establishing an internal integration won’t be able to handle the challenges of a cross-company integration.
When setting up an integration, the key objective is to keep the dependencies to a limited, well-documented set. Each dependency may have an effect on the integration. For instance, if two workflows are integrated and one workflow is redefined with an additional workflow status, it can result in a redefinition of the integration.
If the integration is too tight, making changes to internal processes results in failing integrations, and unhappy business users.
Loosely coupling is essential to achieve a maintainable integration. And that requires a distributed integration where each party can autonomously define how the integration is implemented.
Towards a Worldwide Network of Connected Companies
After a successful implementation of cross-company integration, businesses will greatly benefit from the smooth coordination of activities and increased efficiency. Teams from different organizations can collaborate without switching environments as if the external team were an extension of your own.
This single integration serves as a proof-of-concept (POC) for a multi-company integration, in which many partners integrate their task management systems with yours.
An example is the Catena-X network – an initiative in the automotive industry to transition to a standard exchange of information throughout the entire supply chain.
A multi-company integration can be visualized as a hub network, with a central task management system (yours) connected to multiple partners.
Different businesses have already linked up to collaborate in a number of ways, resulting in interesting networking patterns.
This was also observed at the beginning of the Internet when numerous TCP networks started to interconnect to build a world wide web.
Task management networks are expected to follow this example. Picture a future in which you can connect your task management system to a global network of connected companies and begin cooperating with anyone on the network at the flick of a switch.
We are witnessing the birth of this network and are actively contributing to its growth.
Integrations across companies are no longer a good-to-have, but a necessity. More and more organizations recognize this whenever teams need to collaborate efficiently while using their thrusted environment.
The drive to solve this operational problem will result in an increase in task management networks connecting related companies.
As the logical next step in the process of digital transformation, cross/multi-company integrations are the stepping stone to a worldwide network of connected companies that collaborate in a structured manner.
- A Complete Introduction to Cross-Company Integrations - October 7, 2022