Integrating at the Mobile Layer
Many years ago, I was chatting with the CIO of our company about a project to acquire an ETL tool. The point of buying a tool that could Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) data was to integrate two different systems. I could easily see the use cases where a person might need data from two different business systems to do her job, but what didn’t occur to me until just recently is that possibly that integration should happen at the mobile layer.
In my early days working in IT, basically all integrations happened at the data level between backend systems. The user interfaces were tightly tied to the applications, and really weren’t meant to be modified. I remember the first time I saw Lotus Notes. The idea that there was a simple tool that could build functional applications was very cool. Most of the use cases I saw were fairly simple. They were valuable because they solved real business problems - but most of the things I saw built with Lotus Notes weren’t trying to integrate multiple systems.
BlackBerry devices provided my first glimpse of enterprise mobility. The ability to do email on a phone in a secure and manageable way just floored me. Initially, only executives and sales people had Blackberry devices because they were so valuable. But the usefulness of email and calendar on a phone drove broader usage. Eventually, it became clear that people would want other applications on their phones.
I think we shipped our first BlackBerry app (for RSS reading) about seven years ago at Sitrion (then NewsGator). It’s been exciting and a great learning experience to work on enterprise mobility solutions for several years. Much has changed in that time. Smartphone adoption has skyrocketed. Business expectations of apps are driven by consumer experiences. Whole industries have evolved to try to support mobile manageability, security, and deployment. Yet until about a year ago, I always thought of enterprise mobility as “make mobile app ABC to be the mobile experience for backend system ABC.” That’s a completely valid use case. For example, our Sitrion Social mobile client is the companion to our Sitrion Social server product.
But the reality is that there are many use cases that cross multiple systems. Imagine a case where a customer hits a credit limit in SAP, but the contract for that customer is stored in SharePoint. The person making the decision needs data from both systems. Or consider the case where Exchange stores the calendar information about a sales meeting tomorrow, but Salesforce.com holds all of the notes about the prospect and the opportunity.
Historically, companies might have tried to make these scenarios work better by moving data from one of the backend systems to the other one. Many things can make this tricky. Perhaps one of the systems is not so easily extensible to hold different types of data or content. Perhaps it’s hard to make sure that the appropriate security standards are enforced in the other system. If the data or content is actually kept in two places, you have to have some mechanism that forces them to stay in sync.
This is where the new generation of mobile platforms like Sitrion ONE really shine. It’s now possible to make the integration happen at the mobile layer. Technically, the data access capabilities built into Sitrion ONE and combination of cloud and premise-based connectors allow this all to happen. But with Sitrion ONE, it’s possible for the end user to see the alert on the credit limit from SAP and see the contract from SharePoint all in the same app on their smartphone. Or it’s possible for Sitrion ONE to push updates on the prospects a sales person is meeting with tomorrow, so that all of the data is on their phone without the sales person needing to search.
This is integration at the mobile layer. It’s incredibly powerful because it makes people more productive; it fits the way they use mobile devices; and it avoids the cost and complexity of trying to fit together backend systems. In the many years since we looked to solve these kinds of business problems with expensive ETL tools and long, tedious projects to integrate systems, the industry has come a very long way. While it’s a bit tempting to say we should have seen this possibility all along, integration at the mobile layer is a compelling new story that will change the way people work.