According to research firm Gartner, they are now being used to carry out 50% of digitalisation, and also account for half of the costs. We are talking about a surprising thing – integrations. Experts from the steel company SSAB and Digia say that a new approach to IT system integrations is essential if customers are to be served well. The majority of large companies will soon join the transformation.
How exactly will the new world, enhanced by artificial intelligence and digitalisation, be built? The answer is probably a surprise to most. According to research firm Gartner, integrations of IT systems and applications, which many have previously seen mostly as a necessary evil, will play a key role.
“In the future, it will be vital for companies to have easier, faster and more cost-effective integrations”, says Jani Niskanen, Head of Integration Architecture at the steel group SSAB.
What is the reason for such a big shift? There are essentially two major trends behind this, says Mikko Hakola, Director of Digia’s iPaaS and Open Source business. Firstly, companies’ IT systems consist of an increasingly complex collection of different cloud software, proprietary systems, mobile applications, and data in different locations. As the number of various systems, components, and data sources grows, much more efficient ways to connect them are needed.
Moreover, the needs and requirements of customers have changed. “Our customers want to know about product-related matters and such in real time from our systems and, for example, perform order-related checks directly between the systems”, Niskanen says. Companies on the consumer side run into similar needs – information has to flow between various systems and, for example, mobile applications.
Research firm Gartner has warned that if we try to continue as before, costs could rise uncontrollably. Even more serious is the fact that companies are lagging behind in the digital transformation, as building a digital future is simply not possible with the traditional solutions.
“The changes result in requirements that the old methods simply cannot meet. A new way of thinking is needed”, Niskanen says.
SSAB shows the way for a modern approach
“SSAB’s new approach is exactly what the Nordic countries are moving towards”, Hakola says.
We are moving into the modern world with the help of new types of integration solutions. They facilitate and accelerate system and application integrations so much that our whole approach to them can be altered. Integrations may no longer require dedicated experts, with application development teams instead doing the integrations themselves.
The shift has already gained momentum at SSAB. “The first application development teams have started using a new integration platform. In these implementations, integration experts mainly oversaw that everything was done correctly”, Niskanen says.
In the future, SSAB’s agile core integration team will focus on training, implementation verification, maintenance of the new Dell Boomi integration platform, and the most challenging integrations. Application development teams can do most of the integrations themselves, making the work faster and more agile.
The approach to integrations is thus fundamentally changing. The modern model involves a new kind of architecture, a contemporary integration platform, and a modern management model. They all make work considerably faster and more efficient. Niskanen says that in the past, connecting a customer’s system to SSAB’s system could take practically half a year, for example. In the future, this can be done in a fraction of the previous time and workload.
Mikko Hakola, director of iPaaS and Open Source, Digia & Jani Niskanen, Head of Integration Architecture, SSAB
Modern hybrid solutions meet the requirements of the AI era
The most modern of the new integration platforms are so-called Hybrid Integration Platforms (HIP). They work agilely with both cloud services and companies’ intranet systems. Hakola says that thanks to hybrid integration platforms, companies do not need to circulate data through the cloud, which is a significant advantage. It is also important for artificial intelligence, as the best tools are in the cloud, but huge amounts of data tend to be located in companies’ own systems, from which it is difficult to move them to the cloud.
Indeed, new hybrid integration platforms play a significant role in building digitalisation. Gartner predicts that by the end of next year, two-thirds of large companies will have introduced new hybrid integration platforms.
The new platforms meet many of the needs of today. One of them is real-time operation. “It is no longer enough for information to be transferred once a night, for example. It is usually needed immediately”, Hakola says. This requires a completely different implementation technically than before, and it is not possible to achieve real-time operation with most traditional solutions.
"Information security needs to be built-in for integrations. It cannot be added retrospectively, or it will become very expensive."
Niskanen says that SSAB will introduce, for example, an application that enhances maintenance operations and retrieves information from several different systems. In the new process, the retrieval of information must take place while an employee is performing a task – that is, they need the information immediately for the work to continue. Niskanen notes that if a company is not able to implement this kind of real-time integrations, making work more efficient through digitalisation may grind to a halt.
The new platforms also make it easier to take care of information security. Niskanen points out that high information security is essential when customers are given access to the company’s own IT systems. “Information security needs to be built-in for integrations. It cannot be added retrospectively, or it will become very expensive”, he says.
Modern integration platforms are key factors in the digital transformation. Niskanen encourages consideration of the need for reforms in good time, as usually the platform must be in order before projects can move forward. “If the project starts in early January, the integration platform should be ready by the end of December. Otherwise, the work will not go anywhere”, he summarises.