Lately I’ve been noticing some real convergence in some generally unrelated areas – Single Sign-On (SSO), the ability to sign into multiple applications and services via one portal, application integration and API management are all different take on a similar problem space and we’re starting to see vendors in the different areas move into adjacent territory. Of late I’ve had a few conversions and seen some announcements that speak of this move. Here’s a few examples:
SnapLogic (more on them here) is an application integration company. Their bread and butter is tying together discrete applications so that data can flow in and out of adjacent application spaces. In essence they allow organizations to get a “suite-like” experience from a bunch of best of breed products. But SnapLogic has identified that they need to extend what they do – they’re now delivering process orchestration. A good example might be an integration between an HR solution and other enterprise software. When a new hire is created in the HR system for example, it can set off a bunch of processes that check for accounts in other applications, set them up where necessary and ensure permissioning is consistent. This is far more than an integration offering, it’s delivering core enterprise workflow in an integrated and automated manner.
Another example of these trends is MuleSoft (more coverage here). Like SnapLogic, MuleSoft is an integration player but of late it has branched strongly into a more general API management space. It’s not so much talking about application integration now, rather it sees itself as the hub where different connected data sources (applications, sensors, infrastructure) can “talk” across a common bus. This is very similar to the API management space that has been gaining lots of attention lately and brings it up against players like Apigee, 3Scale, Mashery (acquired by Intel) and Layer7 (acquired by CA Technologies).
Bitium And Zapier
Bitium is a Single Sign-On (SSO) and application management vendor. It too has seen that it needs to broaden what it does and is doing so via a partnership with integration and workflow platform Zapier. Zapier is a similar service to IFTT. They both create a platform where users can plug together different services and build some workflow and triggers to the integration (example – when I post a new image on Instagram, copy it to Dropbox, send a tweet linking to it and email my Grandma with the image). With this partnership Bitium can build workflow across discrete applications that users sign on for.
Core Services Being Commoditized
It seems to me that some core services are increasingly becoming commoditized. The rise of admittedly functionally simple but undeniably simple to use integration tools like IFTT and Zapier is meaning that simple application integration is increasingly difficult to articulate a differentiated value proposition for. Similarly SSO is an increasingly busy space and with core enterprise platforms like Salesforce.com offering SSO as an integral part of what they do, vendors trying to monetize a simple SSO offering will increasingly be sidelined
What all of these different takes on the problem space seem to lack however is an appreciation for the complexity a user finds when trying to utilize a number of different products. In the past we had big, monolithic enterprise systems from companies lie SAP and Oracle. These systems weren’t perfect by any means but they did have the advantage of delivering everything up in a consistent (and, generally, awful) user interface. Snap to today and we have most employees using several solutions, all with their own user interface and experience. It seems to me that all of these players should be thinking about reconciling the user experience aspects of integration as a means to really deliver higher value services.
Of course some suggest that the best approach to achieve this is to abstract the user experience from the actual application – a number of vendors are doing this in the Salesforce and Workday ecosystems for example and trying to surface just the important data within a user experience that isn’t constrained by the core application paradigms.
This is an area that I expect to see much movement on in 2014. With a general acceptance that the future of enterprise IT is going to become ever more complex, and a huge spread in the types of applications being used, I envisage vendors coming to market that combine a broad integration play, with Single Sign-On built in and functionality that allows for inputs from all manner of data sources. It’ll be fun to see the existing vendors morph their message as this end-state starts to show.