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The Evolution of Integration and the Rise of Middleware

Michael O'Dwyer| April 16 2018

| IT insights

Middleware-SOA

Back in the early Jurassic era, when Windows NT Server was the OS of choice, an earlier enterprise employer of mine was considering a company-wide change to Windows XP. Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible, and we remained on Windows 2000. Why? Because the entire production process from raw materials to shipment was connected to both SAP and Filemaker Pro.

A consultant performed the tasks necessary to integrate them both, but the GUI was created using Internet Explorer 6. This meant we could not upgrade to Windows XP as it used IE7, which was not compatible with the integration/GUI (graphical user interface). The company learned a costly lesson and eventually reached the lofty heights of XP usage but not before buying new user licenses for not only XP but also SAP, Filemaker Pro and paying a new consultant fee for a second database integration. While this was indeed a customized solution with a corresponding high cost, there had to be a better and less costly way to integrate what were at the time two widely used applications?

Middleware Makes Sense

Enter the world of middleware, which makes the integration of products and services possible in today’s marketplace, where automation of multiple processes is expected.

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“Middleware has made many things possible and even took it a step further, API exposure or even further, direct product integration. Before, it was no small task to integrate your phone system into your help desk ticketing system or CRM, right now almost every major phone system (low cost) will easily and directly integrate into ZenDesk, Salesforce, Hubspot etc. API’s still require integration and development effort to make it happen, so it didn’t replace consultants, it just made it more accessible and attainable in all areas. The need for consultants hasn’t gone away, it just shifted slightly and has probably increased because the need for integration has increased dramatically,” said Andrew Bagrin, Founder and CEO of OmniNet Inc., an Atlanta, Georgia-based FWaaS platform.

Integration Makes Sense

“Integration between different products and services makes it easy to automate your business or make it much easier for everyone to do their job and creates a much better and complete experience for everyone including customers,” said Bagrin.

I also feel that the rise in middleware kept consultants more honest. In the early 2000’s integrations could cost thousands of dollars and there was quite a bit of work involved. The first time. If you successfully integrate two applications to automate a process, then it’s easier to achieve on the second occasion as the investigative work was completed previously. Modify the work from the first job and you’re golden. Of course, customers pay the full price… Now, the cost of the API or integration method is fixed, especially if popular applications are involved. In fact, many integrations are free, as developers realized it was in their best interests to make their products compatible with those of the major players. When everyone is embedding the ability to integrate with other products, is there a threat to security?

How About Integrated Security?

Security threats are everywhere, and middleware is no exception. Obviously, if data is being shared between applications to automate processes, the risk of data loss increases. Unless, of course, you are diligent about what’s being shared and protecting PII (Personally Identifiable Information).

“The fact that there are standard ways to share data means that security is better, versus having a consultant trying to manually accomplish that goal. The overall security posture has gotten a million times better than it was although it doesn’t feel like that because there are more breaches. This is where stats begin to tell a lie. Security used to be weak, but there weren’t organized threat actors. When the hackers got better and started leveraging weaknesses, data security got better. In response, the organized hackers had to get better and they did, since they were already organized. This started a cat and mouse game that created very strong cybersecurity overall and very sophisticated cybercriminals. The ironic thing is that we needed each other, if it wasn’t for organized cybercrime, security would be far worse today,” said Bagrin.

Very true, sophisticated hackers (not the namby-pamby basement-dwelling mama’s boys who buy their tools and exploits on the Dark Web from undercover law enforcement) have forced continuous improvement in cybersecurity.

Integrate Everything?

How secure are we if all processes are integrated? Is the ‘Integration of Everything’ feasible?

“This is a dream we hope to achieve. In many cases, it’s great to have everything integrated, but there are always things that don’t need any integration and are better as standalone. Once you integrate something, you expose it to a certain degree and weaken security. People will always choose an easy to use on-the-spot solution over a complex integrated solution unless it serves a bigger need. For businesses, it’s usually better to automate or integrate, but no business will pay more to get a coffee machine that is integrated and automatically orders coffee and sugar when it’s low. It’s too complicated and much easier for someone to do it manually,” said Bagrin.

In conclusion, integration today is obviously easier than it was less than 20 years ago, thanks to middleware that allows sharing of data between two or more applications. Integration is a matter of choice and not just for enterprise applications. If your company uses a CMS, let’s say WordPress and you want a shopping cart. You will want one that integrates with your chosen newsletter program, or perhaps with a mailing list or indeed with another platform that acts as a membership site. If someone buys your product or service, you want to automate several functions. You’ll add them to a private membership website, to a newsletter and add to another mailing list. Your solution will accomplish all these tasks, or you must resign yourself to manually processing sales and follow-up tasks until a solution is available.

How much time do you waste on manual tasks that could be automated by identifying the correct combination of applications, website platforms and APIs?

Topics: IT insights

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THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BY Michael O'Dwyer

An Irishman based in Hong Kong, Michael O’Dwyer is a business & technology journalist, independent consultant and writer who specializes in writing for enterprise, small business and IT audiences. With 20+ years of experience in everything from IT and electronic component-level failure analysis to process improvement and supply chains (and an in-depth knowledge of Klingon,) Michael is a sought-after writer whose quality sources, deep research and quirky sense of humor ensures he’s welcome in high-profile publications such as The Street and Fortune 100 IT portals.

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