The Integration Imperative for Companies Everywhere

Integration, particularly application and process integration, is one of the top asks for enterprise software customers — and for good reason.

As humans, we instinctively know that integration and working together makes sense. After all, we have been working together as families, groups, and teams since Paleolithic times to achieve the best outcomes.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that one of the main complaints from business software users today is about the lack of integration between the products and processes they use to run and manage their operations and satisfy consumer demands.

Business software users want the ease of use of a tightly integrated suite that allows seamless movement between processes and applications coupled with the performance and flexibility of best-of-breed applications from the same, or separate, vendors. They want consistent, simple user interfaces that support end-to-end processes and are underpinned by open platforms and common data models.

Expectations for Enterprise Apps

Taking their cue from consumers, who have come to expect a consistently good experience from the apps they use, employees are unwilling to accept anything different at work. Despite the complexity of modern corporate IT systems, they demand the same easy-to-use interfaces and seamless transition among apps that they have grown accustomed to outside the work environment.

The pressure on enterprise software vendors to deliver on integration – particularly between cloud-based portfolios that are a mixture of organic and acquired assets and are often based on different technology stacks – also reflects challenges facing their customers, which are operating in highly competitive digital marketplaces.

Consumers in these markets expect a personalized buying experience across all the touch points they have with a company and a supply chain that is connected to the front office. They expect individualized offerings and next-day delivery. They expect transparency across the entire product life cycle. They expect new payment models, like pay-as-you-go or subscription. All this is impossible without true business process integration across the whole value chain.

Since companies cannot deliver a world-class product and customer experience without ensuring a world-class employee experience, becoming an intelligent enterprise is also about delivering a simple, intuitive, and harmonized experience for employees, freeing up their time from repetitive tasks for more innovative work.

Integration has always been a challenge for software consumers and vendors alike. But it is a necessity and a fundamental prerequisite for streamlining business processes and for getting the most value out of data. Without it, organizations struggle with their digital transformation initiatives, are stymied in their efforts to become intelligent enterprises, and fail to maximize the value from their investments in innovative technologies, such as machine learning, robotic process automation, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Integration Survey

survey of 650 IT leaders conducted last year concluded that integration barriers were slowing down 84 percent of organizations planning, or in the midst of, digital transformation efforts. Of the more than 1,000 applications that almost half of respondents were using, less than one-third were integrated, contributing to a data silo problem.

Some enterprise software vendors, including SAP, have recognized the problem and are prioritizing product and process integration, starting with their cloud-based portfolios, while others remain focused solely on technical integration.

Earlier this year, SAP published a detailed integration strategy paper for its cloud-related portfolio, which says true integration that will deliver real value requires two elements: strong business process integration across the entire value chain and a harmonized data model to provide a 360-degree view of the business using real-time SAP and non-SAP data.

Digging deeper, the concept of integration applies to several distinct use cases. Among them are application-to-application integration, or the interlinking of business processes between one business’s applications; business-to-business and business-to-government integration, or interlinking business partners; and master data synchronization, which enables the exchange of data between a system of record and applications.

Harmonized Data

Crucially, enterprise customers with complex, heterogeneous data landscapes need to manage data processing across data lakes, cloud and on-premise databases, as well as data coming from cloud and on-premise applications. Harmonized data models and a central master data service are crucial to the sharing and distribution of master data across an intelligent enterprise.

Delivering holistically integrated business processes — such as lead to cash (managing customer experience), source to pay (procurement), recruit to retire (workforce management), and design to operate (supply chain) — will not be easy, but it is important if companies are to realize the full benefits of their investments in advanced technologies and meet the requirements of tomorrow’s consumers.

Ultimately, it is the consumer who will benefit most from business process integration. As we always knew, working together beats going it alone every time.

This story originally appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.