When we are building out a software system or integrating systems together, we often create what we call an integration layer. This integration layer is also sometimes referred to as an intermediate layer or middleware. What we end up with is a set of software components that act as the sources of truth for all of the data and integrations within our system. All of the data is defined, stored, updated, and accessed in this central location as a way of simplifying an otherwise complex network and allowing information to be shared more reliably within the system.
Building an integration layer
When building an integration layer, the key is to take an iterative approach. Oftentimes, integration layers are a replacement for manual processes or excel spreadsheets. It’s important to pick a high-impact set of processes to replace first.
1. Identify your core business domain models
These are the representations that describe your business. For example, a retail or e-commerce company would represent their business via product, inventor, order, and customer domain models
2. Identify your business process flows
The next step is to take those models, and plan out the key business process flows that you are trying to enable. For example:
- When an order is placed, remove the number of product(s) sold in the inventory
- When an order is placed, create an accounting invoice
- When new inventory is added for a product, update the inventory store
- When an item is displayed on the e-commerce site, the inventory for the product is shown
3. Identify your system of record tools
Once you have a good handle on the key models and flows of your business, the next step is to identify what tools will be your system of record for the models you’ve chosen. Some common systems of record:
- Accounting Model: Quickbooks
- Orders: Magento, Shopify, etc
- Product/Inventory: Quickbooks, Zoho, Salesforce, etc
What does an abstraction layer offer
An integration layer allows information to flow easily through the tech ecosystem by connecting disparate softwares more closely. In practice, that means you are getting real-time information and changes happen across the board instantaneously which speeds everything else up. Future tools can be brought online more rapidly because the structure of the greater ecosystem is such that you only need to connect the new system to the integration layer instead of doing a point-to-point integration with every other pre-existing system.
You are also able to work more accurately with up-to-date information from the whole organization. Virtually every part of an ecosystem runs better because there is one central place where information is kept and accessed.
How our clients have benefitted
We have applied this concept to some of our biggest clients and seen considerable real-world benefits in their supply chains and business operations. Because of the centralizing of information, the integration layer can serve as a central place for analytics. We built an analytic dashboard to easily monitor all the updated information and track its changes over time. It has also made it significantly easier to onboard new use-cases and tools such as replacing a problematic POS system and adding an automated printing solution.
Either of those projects could have been a timely and costly undertaking, but because of the simplicity of having one hub to connect things to, we were able to get them up in just two weeks. Furthermore, it has built-in automation for managing the supply chain. Front of store stock, back of store stock, and distribution centers are all immediately updated with changes in inventory and movement throughout the whole product process.
This not only cuts down on manual work and disparate spreadsheets but increases compliance in regulated fields.
If you are interested in learning more about how an integration layer can help your business or are interested in having one built out, drop a note in our inbox below!
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