Workday Integration Cloud Debut Raises the Bar on Integration as a Service

Updated: March 28, 2011

Opening up integration functions to more users on the front lines of business-to-business requirements empowers those workers. But providing those integration capabilities on a common enterprise cloud environment -- one that exploits enterprise service bus (ESB) technology and SOA benefits -- gives the users freedom without risk of chaos or lack of control and management.

Incidentally, I'll be on a live webinar this Wednesday at 2 pm ET on the general topic of integration platform as a service (iPaaS) and cloud-based computing approaches. Sign up to watch the panel discussion.

Early advocacy of iPaaS

An early advocate for the "integration as a service" concept, Workday is delivering on that vision in a way that could rapidly broaden its appeal beyond human resources management (HRM) and enterprise ERP and into more general cloud services. The strong integration capabilities bolsters the appeal of Workday's applications services, draws in more service partners, and sets the stage for providing wider integration capabilities.

While business-to-business integration is a key requirement for how companies support their employees -- with complex interactions across suppliers for payroll, benefits, and recruitment -- the data and access control in human resources systems proves an essential ingredient for making general integrations become more automated and safe. The new cloud integration services and tools allow customers and partners to build, deploy, run and manage custom integrations for the numerous systems and applications that connect to and from Workday.

The bottleneck of IT-administered integrations based on installed integration platforms does not seem up to this task.

But Workday executives say that "the sky is the limit" on where cloud-based integration -- that is part and parcel with applications services -- can go. And the timing is pretty hot. That's because we're seeing that companies are focused on the business process level more, and that the resources, assets, participants and interfaces that support those processes are more varied and distributed than ever.

The challenge, then, is not just middleware integrations amid a more complex and dynamic environment, but of integrating more types of services and resources from more places by more people. The bottleneck of IT-administered integrations based on installed integration platforms does not seem up to this task. The integration requirements need to shift right along with the elements that support "boundaryless" processes.

Beat the complexity

Additionally, the historic separations of data integration, application integration and web services interoperability and access need to come together better. Those tasked with crafting and adapting business processes need to architect across the domains of integration, not be hobbled by the complexity and incompatibility among and between them. Logic and data need to play well together regardless of where they reside or how their underlying technology behaves.

In order to accomplish these new requirements, an uber integration capability that can be leveraged by various IT constituents amid an ecosystem - not installed by any or all those IT environments - appears the best and fastest approach. An integration platform in the cloud that can be leveraged and managed with enterprise-caliber security and access control at the process level can solve these vexing problems, for data, process, workflow, collaboration and traditional integration methods.

Cloud-based integration can turn IT into a rapid enabler of process innovation, rather than a costly bottleneck.

Embedding the integrations as core features of the common applications architecture also frees up the lock-in from the database integration hairball that often builds around on-premises n-tier architectures. The brittle nature of such custom integrations has also driven up the cost of computing significantly, while holding back companies from adopting new technology at a business pace, rather than an integrations pace.

That's why iPaaS and a multi-tenancy cloud environment can be a powerful productivity enhancer: businesses can far better create relationships between their organizations and pursue process innovations without the need to adjust a vast hairball of legacy software. Cloud-based integration can turn IT into a rapid enabler of process innovation, rather than a costly bottleneck.

Furthermore, the need to address people, process and technology concerns is cliche for all IT activities, but perhaps most important for how process integrations really work. Who gets to integrate what and how, and who can give permissions for cross-organizational interactions has been a thorny issue. Workday's approach to cloud integration building leverages permissions and policy-driven access and governance to make integration crafting a more mainstream corporate competency.

Benefits of multi-tenancy

Because Workday's SaaS offerings are architected on multi-tenancy operational model, whereby all users and partners to the Workday services and applications are in synch on versions and updates, integrations can be made and amended with far less complexity. A major deterrent for legacy-based EAI and middleware integrations is in the risk and complexity of making integrations that break when its time to upgrade apps or platforms.

And while APIs and lightweight connectors have been a huge benefit in recent years, the APIs interactions are not always enough for enterprise-level process integrations. There's also the problem of API sprawl, and the need to manage the interactions holistically and comprehensively.

It's the processes, after all, that count most and should be easy to safely make, remake and iterate on.

In a nutshell, Workday is working to break the integration-platform-database-applications vise that can hinder and bind enterprises and governments. The relations need to go deeper than APIs. Solving this is no small feat, but it may be one of the greatest long-term benefits of the cloud computing model, both in terms of cost and agility. It's the processes, after all, that count most and should be easy to safely make, remake and iterate on.

It's time that agile integration become a feature of more applications, rather than a hand-crafted after-market exercise at the complex database and middleware tiers. And if that can happen quicker and better as a cloud-based iPaaS model, I'm all for it.

Collaboration moves to services level

The need to effectively cobble together services, data, participants and logic and management in business processes needs to go beyond the over-burdened IT team. Social media trends show us that productivity comes from allowing individuals to reach out and craft new and better ways of doing things, of being collaborative wherever and however they can to support their goals.

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