What is Application Integration?

Application integration is the process of enabling communication between two or more independent applications to reduce data redundancy and avoid information silos.

Why is Application Integration Necessary?

Very often, enterprises, such as banks and hospitals, have on-premise applications such as a customer relationship management software (CRM) or an enterprise resource planning software (ERP). However, to improve performance or to add new capabilities, they might deploy newer technologies, such as a cloud or a web application. These newer additions need to interoperate with older systems for smooth data flow. Application integration is the process of enabling this interoperability between the old and the new to achieve data consistency across an organization.

How is Application Integration Useful?

Imagine you run a food delivery business. If you have an integrated application architecture, data from your orders is transformed for your ERP system for processing, goes to your logistics department for delivery information, is transferred to your finance department for invoicing, and is also transformed for your CRM for customer information. All of this happens without any manual intervention.

In other words, application integration helps organizations improve overall business efficiency while reducing IT costs.

How is Application Integration Achieved?

Broadly speaking, application integration has four different levels, which vary in their complexity and functionality. These are:

  • Presentation level integration: At the presentation level, different applications are presented as a single application with a common interface. It is achieved through middleware technology. Presentation level integration is, perhaps, the earliest kind of application integration. It is also known as screen scraping.
  • Business process integration: This level of integration connects various business processes to common servers, which can be on-premise or cloud. Business process integration, largely, deals with how different applications will interact with each other. It is helpful in automating business processes, reducing human error, and improving overall efficiency.
  • Data integration: One of the key processes for efficient application integration is data integration. It ensures that applications can talk to each other by way of exchanging data. Since different applications might output different data formats, data transformation is a key part of this integration level. Simply speaking, data is converted into a format that is understood by all applications. Data transformation is achieved either by writing custom code for all applications in an architecture, or deploying data connectors, which act as an intermediary between applications. Data connectors transform data output from different applications into a common language that is understood by all. They are a more scalable and efficient solution for data integration.
  • Communications-level integration: This is the ultimate level in application integration. It is used to achieve business process and data integration. While data integration ensures that applications can talk to each other, communications-level integration defines how communication happens. It employs APIs (application program interface) to achieve the task. Different methods are available for communications-level integration viz. point-to-point approach, hub-and-spoke model, and an enterprise service bus (ESB).

In addition to different levels of integration, application integration also employs two different kinds of messaging for communication between applications and data sources. These are synchronous communication and asynchronous communication.