To connect two or more systems you can either choose point-to-point (direct) connections, middleware, or a customized mix of both. integrator.io can operate with either; however, it shines the most when connecting multiple applications across different business processes and departments of an organization.
Direct connection vs middleware
A direct connection allows for communication between two systems. To join any additional system, an extra direct connection is required. For example, when a printer is connected to a computer with a USB cable, the user can send print jobs directly from the printer to the computer.
Direct solutions are always built for specific problems – for example, to connect an ERP system to a marketplace. This approach might right if you’re not expecting any big changes or expansions, or if your company won’t benefit from the additional functionality a middleware brings.
In the past, this approach worked for many years. Today, software development is moving quickly, and companies are switching systems quickly. It is hard to keep the connections up to date with changing API requirements, especially at scale as the footprint grows across many countries. With a point-to-point solution, every new marketplace would need to be enabled and maintained with the same effort as the first one.
On the other hand, middleware sits between two or more systems. It can manage different tasks like, but not limited to, the following:
- Receiving requests from applications
- Transforming, routing, or filtering the received data
- Forwarding requests and data to other applications
- Receiving, logging, monitoring, and returning status and error information
This strategy automates a process between multiple departments within a company or multiple companies. For example, you can integrate an online shop, ERP, and third-party logistics provider (3PL). This would include receiving orders from an online shop, fulfilling them in the ERP, and initiating the shipping in the warehouse management system (WMS).
Benefits of middleware
Generally speaking, the more complex the technical landscape, the more necessary middleware becomes.
Middleware can offer security features out of the box. Data governance models enable an administrator to grant specific rights and permissions to user roles, to ensure that sensitive information and the integration infrastructure are accessible only to the right people. Establishing access policies during setup minimizes the risk of human errors, while at the same time driving transparency of how the middleware is performing.
Maintaining all integrations on one platform makes it easier, for example, for the IT department to roll out new security standards and keep track of integrations without overlooking vulnerabilities.
Middleware offers valuable features beyond the base functionality of point-to-point connections, such as:
- Dashboards, reports, and analytics
- Notification service
- Graphical and intuitive user interface
- Tools and templates to help build integrations
- Error management
- Resources management
- Environment management
- Account management
- Help, community, and customer service
Scalability is the chief differentiator for growing businesses choosing between middleware and point-to-point connections. One of the critical benefits of middleware in this scenario is scalability. You can connect additional systems to seamlessly integrate and extend more business processes if needed. With middleware, resources can be used and reused across the enterprise. It adds unification, a common structure, and transparency to the integrations.
For example, when enabling a new e-commerce market, integrations from one country can be copied and adjusted to also work in another country. Features like duplicating integrations can save a lot of time and, therefore, development costs. Changing environments can be adapted to scale to give you a head start on the competition.
Risk of failure
Point-to-point connections built over the years tend to introduce risk since they are often poorly documented and hard to maintain as updates are released. Oftentimes, a single person in a company knows how a connection works. It’s also not uncommon that the team member who built a specific connection leaves the company or retires.
Middleware reduces these risks and supports the collaboration of many users who share information. This centralized approach reduces the risk of a single point of failure.
Choose between point-to-point or middleware
In the decision-making process, the key stakeholders of disparate systems come together and align on an integration strategy. Ideally, multiple departments – such as product, e-commerce, IT, marketing, and finance – collaborate on a shared automation roadmap. Then, the company can find common ground for its integration challenges, leveraging the central middleware to operate across functions. Point-to-point solutions too often increase “silo” thinking.
Transition from point-to-point to middleware
- Analyze which systems are most critical to migrate to middleware. Start by measuring the number of connections, how often they change, and how often new connections are needed. Continue this analysis by building a roadmap to keep track of what should be moved and when.
- Build the needed connections with the middleware. It can be useful to keep the connections in parallel and turn on the new middleware connections one at a time to ensure a smooth transition.
- Find opportunities to sync other systems to keep profiting from the new middleware. New automations can be developed most easily by leveraging existing connections.