Think business is efficient and systems connected? It isn’t and they aren’t… Which is why middleware has never been more relevant.
In an information technology environment awash with meaningless jargon and equally awash with software which routinely claims to be Lord of the Rings-esque (one to rule them all) it would probably be jarring to outsiders to learn that fully integrated systems are to be found only in the confines of glossy brochures and slick PowerPoint presentations. The reality at the coal face is quite different and that’s why companies like Flow Software continue to do a roaring trade especially in the new API-driven cloud era.
That’s confirmed by Andrew Glasson, Sales Manager at the Auckland-HQd provider of middleware software and integration solutions. “A lot of projects we deliver have ERP systems at the centre. Within ERP, every customer is different in terms of configuration and set up, whether that’s for MYOB, Dynamics 365, SAP or other environments.”
Differences even appear depending on ERP vendor, added Glasson. “That means quite varied requirements for middleware solutions, something that we’ve always been able to provide.”
More to the point, even modern ERP solutions are rarely ‘end-to-end’ at all. Take building company Stevenson Group. It runs Dynamics 365 NAV for most of its business, but then requires some specialist software for its concrete manufacturing plant – which doesn’t talk to NAV. Or poultry farms; Tegel runs multiple systems which meet specific business requirements like chicken feedmill systems, but these don’t easily talk to one another.
A similar situation can be found in multiple businesses in various industry verticals, where there are routinely pockets of essential applications, which take care of specific requirements, however– can cause bottlenecks and admin as a result.
Glasson said that this is routinely the case; while there is a tendency to believe that in today’s fabulously advanced world, things are generally done pretty efficiently, the reality tends to be disappointingly the opposite. There is still a lot of paper, manual data re-entry and manual tasks that all of us perform every day in our professional and personal lives.
But there is more to it than connecting things together, said Flow CEO David Masters. “Some of the real benefits come in the ability to orchestrate business processes and use integration to manage step by step what needs to occur within the business including when human intervention and thinking is required.”
There is of course, that whole cloud thing going on right now, too. This doesn’t solve ‘end-to-end’ issues, it makes for more ends which need to be connected if improved efficiency from information flow is to be achieved.
Masters confirmed that this is an obvious environment for middleware requirements. “The transition to the cloud has resulted in an increased need for integration.”
He said it is through the integration component that cohesive systems can be created of hybrid environments as businesses transition some of their applications and environments to the cloud with others staying traditionally on premise.
Enabling and automating workflows, in other words, which is useful for process-driven organisations.
The explosion in the availability of APIs, continued Masters, is driving the integration industry forward. That’s because APIs enable efficiency and workflows across independent organisations; they even enable innovation. “It’s put integration back at the forefront of IT planning and strategy within IT departments. With middleware, you can not only connect to application and partner APIs, but organisations can also publish their application or business API.”With that data exposed, yet controlled through the API, he explained, third parties can access and use data to create new services and enhancements.
Flow isn’t, of course, without competition from some international vendors, not the least of which are big hitters like Microsoft, MuleSoft, IBM and TIBCO. But the company continues to win deals and grow, said Glasson, particularly from those organisations which value direct contact with the product provider, the ability to empower their IT departments and are looking for a cost effective solution. “We’re able to meet the needs of quite small organisations, which have integration challenges of their own, all the way through to some of New Zealand and Australia’s largest companies.”