Today companies are aiming towards Digital Integration Hubs - in other words, digital platforms that act as nodes of concentration and data sourcing in a communications network. To understand this phenomenon, it is necessary to think about how many changes the digital transformation has already produced, both in companies and in the market, compared to only a few years ago.
Managing Omnichannel with the digital integration hub.
Digital Transformation is increasingly and deeply impacting omnichannel engagement strategies and the relative customers’ journey across multiple touchpoints: websites, mobile apps, virtual assistants, voice interfaces, and so on. Digital technologies are a powerful tool to improve the customers’ experience and establish a new relationship with end-users.
By continuously adding new touchpoints and new features, though, some technical debt may occur. In the long term, implementing omnichannel strategies without a strategic approach based on the Digital Integration Hub paradigm might turn out to be arduous and unsustainable to manage for IT. The main reasons are:
User experience issues
To build new touchpoints, it’s necessary to build a network with the Company’s back-end systems, which are traditionally organized in technological silos.
In this scenario, applying a rudimentary multichannel approach, in which channels are integrated one by one directly with the existing systems, keeps each one of them separated from the others and results in a non-unified user experience. An online purchase, for example, requires access to data from multiple systems, as the product catalogue, the loyalty program score, the payment status and the expedition’s tracking: integrating each one separately could become really long and complex to realize and deliver data that is often incorrect or not up to date.
Point-to-point connections can also make data availability difficult, as it is tied to the functioning of the underlying systems: if the systems have downtime, data become inaccessible and entire functions can go out of order.
Scalability, flexibility, cost, and safety issues
The solution of choosing a cross-channel approach, in which different touchpoints are also integrated with each other, involves high costs and recurrent delays in time-to-market, due to the necessary integration effort.
As touchpoints and connections increase, code duplication problems arise, together with development complexity, safety, accessibility and user-identity inconveniences; also, single system maintenance gets difficult, due to the different touchpoints interdependence. This affects time-to-market and the deployment of new services.
Even more important, probably, is the impact that new digital channels can have on the underlying systems. Legacy systems were not designed to be scalable and to answer such a large amount of calls. Now they struggle to bear the data and requests load that is coming from omnichannel applications. Scaling this systems is very hard and expensive, and generally results in poor performances, when not in actual operative stops.
Gartner: “A Digital Integration Hub to make Omnichannel easy”.
In the article “The Digital Integration Hub Turbocharges Your API Strategy”, the research firm Gartner explains why an IT architecture based on the Digital Integration Hub (DIH) paradigm could be the solution to the issues mentioned above.
According to Gartner, the DIH is “an emerging architectural paradigm [...] being adopted by a growing number of organizations to support customer experience and digital transformation initiatives”. “These organizations have typically implemented a DIH to enable high-scale API-based access to system of record application and data, while minimizing workload on these systems and delivering additional value via analytics”, adds the research.
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The essential elements of a Digital Integration Hub are the following:
- an event-based integration layer that, relying on Fast Data technology, collects real-time information from different sources;
- an orchestrated ecosystem of microservices to aggregate data based on business logics and build the single views ( E.g., of customers or products) that are necessary to applications;
- a layer of APIs that strongly decouples the touchpoints from the back-end systems and makes access to information easy for applications and channels;
- an appropriate management tool for unified and well-defined governance of its own DIH.
In summary, a DIH built on this architecture aggregates multiple sources of data in a data store with high performances, low latency, and high scalability, that becomes accessible to the different touchpoints through a front-end API layer.
By acting as a decoupling layer between back-end systems and front-end services, the DIH, analyzes Gartner, provides several advantages. Firstly, it prevents back-end systems from being directly exposed to high and potentially excessive workloads, with all the implications in terms of performance and software and hardware update.
Using a DIH also allows companies to avoid the expensive tactical implementations of complex integrations, performed time after time between the API layer and the system of record applications. Business Intelligence can also benefit from the presence of DIH thanks to an improved ability to track and analyze data.
Furthermore, adds Gartner, by decoupling the API services layer from the back-end systems, the Digital Integration Hub allows organizations to easily and securely share its data with third parties in order to develop new opportunities and business models.
The full report is available here (Warning: Paywall - you must be a Gartner client to access the report).