How many times have you been sold or marketed an integrated system? Throughout my career, I've been involved in doing just that, extolling the virtues of integrated systems and how they will revolutionise the user's organisation. I like to think that they did and that the user experienced the benefits that the sales pitch promised. That approach worked for both parties; the customer had one business to work with and that the selling company kept all of the spoils. Those companies that sold specialist, best of class applications often struggled; sure, they may have had deeper functionality and domain experience, but the benefits of integration commonly triumphed over the focus of the niche provider.
Technology, or a lack of it, was a major obstacle for them. They didn't have the tools to write the code that made integrations with other systems deliverable, something we now increasingly take for granted. Read a technology description of any contemporary system and it won't be long before you come to the acronym, API - the catch-all for all your integration needs. They promise easy, seamless integration between applications and expectations are now very high in this regard. But, and you knew there was a but coming, they often don't deliver because they were an after-thought. They were bolted-on to the existing code, often to meet the specific needs of an important customer. They lack architectural integrity and scalability and struggle to deliver a high-quality, repeatable experience for the user. That won't stop the vendor ticking the box marked 'Integration' in the Invitation to Tender and nor will it stop the claims in their marketing collateral. I'd advise organisations to really test the credentials and capabilities of those claims. It's only half the story but it is crucial.
Even if the technology is up-to-scratch, something else is still required to ensure success: a willingness to cooperate. This is significant and should not be underestimated. You may find it surprising that many technology vendors will shirk away from that cooperation, citing things like "we had a bad previous experience with that vendor" or "they use inferior or incompatible technology". The situation worsens if the vendor is asked by the user to integrate with a system they see as competitive. Their instincts will perhaps drive them to become obstructive in the hope that the customer takes their own integrated product. They put their own needs before that of the customer. This is something I'm seeing more commonly in our own market and it's important that the market doesn't adopt a lowest common denominator approach to its users gaining the best experience.
No software company can meet all its target audience. That's why organisations such as SalesForce, SAP or Zoho have thriving partner communities focussed on delivering specialist solutions. In smaller organisations it may still be very advantageous to have a single supplier to work with. However, in larger entities, the integrated system needs to become an integrated platform, where the users can use applications of their choice without compromising the vital flow of data between them. In our own user community, we already work cooperatively with other vendors to deliver the system the customer needs. That takes a willingness to cooperate and to put the selfish desire to 'own' the customer to one side. Delivery of an overall experience that meets the expectations we've helped to create is vital and vendors have a responsibility to make good on their promises. It comes down to the choice: is it better to have a disappointed and unfulfilled customer paying a higher price or a happy and fulfilled one paying a lower price? The investment we're making in our products is based upon the need for long-term customer relationships and it's clear that happier customers stay for longer.
There are huge benefits to integration. The de-siloing of data is at the heart of what we do at Yotta and we couldn't do that without being confident in our ability to consume and supply data to and from our own or external sources. We have many customers that use only our software and I hope they continue to; however, we would have failed if we restricted their ability to create a stronger, integrated platform through narrow-minded short-termism.
My hope is that Alloy will always be at the forefront of our customers’ thoughts when trying to solve an issue, however, if they decide that it isn’t right for them in that instance and another system is, then we will work in a spirit of collaboration to deliver something that contributes to the vision of Connected Asset Management. To do otherwise, would be counter-intuitive to the very vision we’re aiming to deliver upon.