When I began writing about integration, I struggled with the concept of integration as a strategic endeavor.
One the face of it, nothing could be more tactical than connecting systems. And while I saw how integration could be a necessary component of strategic initiatives, I sometimes felt it was a stretch to consider integration in and of itself as a strategic issue.
It was no small issue for writing this blog, because IT Business Edge's audience is business and technology leaders-people with little interest in coding details, but a definite desire to use technology strategically and maybe even for a competitive advantage.
Of course, there have always been technology vendors who use integration strategically. How often have you read about a company's plans to integrate-always "seamlessly" - with Sharepoint? Or Office? Heck, half the time vendors get miles of marketing leverage just out of integrating with themselves, (ahem, Oracle).
But since the rise of the cloud, integration's strategic value is becoming clearer every day. Slowly, but surely, companies are using integration as a way to expand their business model and compete in new ways.
Now, lots of companies are doing this, but seldom have I seen the point made more clearly than in this TechCrunch article, published on the Washington Post Web site, about Zoho Projects' recent plans to integrate with Google Apps. Zoho is a startup trying to make it in the established document-management market. Integration is a cornerstone of its business plan, as the article observes:
In fact, because of this highly competitive landscape, integrations are vital to the software's success as an application suite. Recently, Zoho launched integration with Microsoft Sharepoint as well as with Microsoft Access. Zoho's project-management application, Zoho Projects 2.0, also added the capability to import existing projects from MS Project, Microsoft's project management desktop software.
In this case the integration is with traditional software as well as cloud offerings. But it does seem to me that integration being leveraged as a competitive advantage has grown as cloud computing and SaaS achieve wider acceptance.
In fact, I suspect this might be Google's strategy for competing with Microsoft. In addition to Zoho's announcement, I recently read a press release touting the fact that iPhone's new spreadsheet application integrates with Google Apps.
Open APIs and the integration they support allow companies to form alliances, rather than forcing them to compete alone or engage in messy mergers and acquisitions. That could be a problem for established players like Microsoft. As ReadWrite Enterprise recently pointed out in an article about Google's attempts to push into the enterprise space right as Microsoft starts its annual Sharepoint conference, "With each step, they (Microsoft) face a community network of micro-sized businesses that are proving formidable with their best-in-breed technologies."
Services open up a whole new world of business opportunities. It's easy to see this with online companies like Google and Salesforce. But, if you're moving towards a service-oriented architecture, why not think about how integration can become a competitive advantage for your company?