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How do you get the board on board with a new integration strategy?

How do you get the board on board with a new integration strategy?

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APIs can underpin an organisation’s plans for transformation and also allow them to tackle the modern challenges of today. Lila Dorato, Senior Director, Solutions Engineering at MuleSoft, identifies the technological benefits of an API-first approach and discusses how it offers far greater efficiency and a more lasting competitive edge.

Not many IT professionals struggle to convince the board that Digital Transformation should be a priority. The pandemic created unforeseen challenges and businesses saw the importance of being able to quickly create new digital capabilities to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. However, while boards are keen to drive new initiatives such as launching new online services in association with partners, and moving beyond omnichannel strategies to seamless customer experiences, it can be difficult to get their interest in the integration capabilities that are essential to these projects. As a result, many organisations are unable to fully embrace Digital Transformation and are falling behind in their efforts to innovate.

Building from the ground up

When business leaders think of Digital Transformation, solutions like cloud and AI are usually first to mind. However, while IT teams recognise integration is the foundation to ensuring these initiatives succeed, it’s a much tougher sell to ensure it’s an equal priority among the board.

The key challenge for IT teams is the ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ fallacy – change in the back-office isn’t always a priority for the board. Decision-makers often take the view that traditional approaches to integration – tightly coupled, point-to-point connections – have served their digital strategy well until this point, so there’s no need to change. However, what they often don’t recognise is that these strategies aren’t aligned with solving the new challenges that modern organisations face. A new, API-first approach brings far greater efficiency and a more lasting competitive edge by laying the foundation for automation everywhere and a composable enterprise strategy that enables greater reuse and business agility.

The tough sell with a huge payoff

To garner support for a new approach to integration, IT leaders should start by identifying the organisation’s current needs and future goals. The pace of digitisation has undoubtedly accelerated over the last 12-18 months and many CIOs are looking to address this need by solving critical operational issues so they can drive innovation faster. IT and business teams also need to prioritise mutual collaboration if they are to grow and scale innovation and build a lasting competitive edge. By finding new ways to align, collaborate and co-create value, IT and business teams can achieve business priorities faster. Whatever the goal, the IT team should be able to articulate the challenges the business faces to achieving that with its current approach to integration. In this way, they can demonstrate that if these issues are addressed, there will be tangible benefits for the business.

For example, it might be taking a business too long to get products to market because they’re reliant on systems and applications stitched together with custom integrations. Or perhaps the IT team is no longer able to manage rising workloads, and is consequently unable to deliver crucial projects on time. This is a common problem faced by businesses using outdated integration strategies: our research found that IT teams were asked to deliver nearly a third more projects last year, but only 37% were able to deliver all of them. The board could also be persuaded by the potential to save costs with a new approach to integration. Currently, custom code integrations cost large enterprises an average of around US$3.5 million per year, based on labour costs alone.

So, why APIs?

While IT teams are familiar with the benefits of a new integration strategy, they need to increase awareness and understanding across the rest of the business. They can begin by highlighting the technological benefits: with an API-led approach to integration, rigid point-to-point connections are replaced by loose couplings between data, applications and devices. These loose couplings save time and money that is currently wasted adjusting custom code every time change is needed. Governance also becomes easier as APIs entail a single and standardised approach to security.

Perhaps the most significant technological selling point of an API-led approach is the potential for reuse. With APIs, IT assets and capabilities become easily consumable and reusable across the business, as well as for partners and other third-parties. This will lead to enterprises that are fully composable in the future, enabling businesses to accelerate the launch of new applications and services, while reducing the workload upon IT teams.

How do you convince the board?

Having identified the technological benefits of a new approach, IT needs to communicate the advantages on offer to the business. Primarily, it’s important to emphasise that APIs can underpin the organisation’s plans for transformation. For example, if a business wants to improve its real-time inventory management capabilities, IT should highlight how APIs support this by enabling data to flow seamlessly between different supply chain systems, both internal and external. Or if the organisation’s goal is to build a platform for omnichannel engagement, IT teams can point to the ability for APIs to support the creation of a 360 degree view of the customer.

Whatever outcome the business hopes to achieve, IT leaders should demonstrate why a new approach to integration will power these initiatives. Essentially, the IT team needs to prove the tangible value that a composable approach to integration can offer to the business. Whether the aim is to improve customer experience or become more operationally efficient, they should drive home how reusability in connectivity reduces costs, increases productivity and drives revenue.

The gift that keeps on giving

When developing an argument for a new integration strategy, it will become apparent that the technological and business benefits offered by an API-led approach go hand in hand, helping to reduce maintenance overheads and improve the business’ bottom line.

One organisation that reaped the benefits of this virtuous cycle is City National Bank, which aimed to improve customer experience with an omnichannel strategy. The board of course prioritised the final outcome without giving too much thought to the technologies needed to get there. The IT team used APIs to connect the business’ various customer data sources and applications. The result was a direct improvement to the end-user experience, which provided the board with clear proof of the benefits a new integration strategy could offer. Essentially, the IT team was able to demonstrate one advantage of APIs to sell other benefits to the board, and were therefore able to secure the support needed to establish a new, longer-term API strategy.

Ultimately, every business will have its own goals and planned initiatives, each of which will be powered by different technologies and strategies. Whatever initiative the business puts first, integration should always be the foundation for delivering innovation.

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