The 5 C’s API Integration Maturity Model
Organizations rarely tackle integration across all use cases, all at once. Instead, here at Cloud Elements, we’ve noticed a pattern of certain types of integrations organizations prioritize. This is akin to a crawl, walk, run approach to integration, applying both to the learning curve that development teams face, as well as the complexity of the applications.
There are five distinct phases in which organizations will typically evolve their integration processes on the way to becoming an established platform within their application ecosystem. Because I love alliteration, let’s call them the five C’s of organizational integration: Content, Customers, Cash, Candidates, and Community.
PHASE 1: Content
A majority of organizations start out just getting organized. Understanding where all your content is across systems, departments, and business units, has a huge impact on the efficiency of every process in the organization. Integrating document storage applications and their APIs is typically the easiest place to start. They look very similar and are all relatively transactional with a majority of the value coming from GET and POST calls. At this phase, you don’t have to worry about specific mappings or overly complicated orchestration. Just get the signed contract from here to there without people losing access.
PHASE 2: Customer
This is the largest of the phases because the customer (and their information) is touched by the large number of departments and product functions. The most common integration scenario at this stage is Lead-to-Customer. Your marketing automation is integrated into your CRM so customer’s information is carried through all the way from a form fill to a contract (looking at you, Content integration). Once a “Customer Object” is stable enough to travel through marketing and sales departments, additional integrations can be extended to Support, Engineering, and Product teams. For example, another extension at this phase is a Ticket Sync scenario. A customer files a support ticket, which is then routed from support to product filing a bug and finally engineering to create a solution. Sometimes this goes even further to update the CRM so sales can manage expectations (and reduce churn). Multiple applications across departments are now relying on and contributing to a customer object. In this phase, to make this achievable, mapping and orchestration become crucial to your integration architecture.
PHASE 3: Cash
This is the most complex phase organizations face, but organizations will typically tackle this next because there is real money involved. Integration use cases at this point will focus around Quote to Cash, Contract to Cash or more immediately, Order to Cash. Having your content and customers aligned allows you to attach additional financial information and extend the process flow to financial and accounting teams. The reason why this can be the most complex phase is financial and accounting applications vary widely depending on which end of the market you live in. Barbara’s Bike and Coffee Cafe running on Quickbooks is not the same as a Fortune 500 running on an SAP ERP. Minor things like how you account for cash flow, both recognized and on hand, can vary widely in an integration. But efficiencies gained in bringing these systems together result in fewer errors, better billing, and recognizing revenue earlier. This all results in a real impact on the bottom line and gives you hard ROI numbers for your integration strategy. At this phase, security, logs, and metrics for audit purposes become vitally important.
PHASE 4: Candidates
At this phase, you have achieved an integrated (and hopefully more predictable) revenue stream from Lead all the way to Cash. Now organizations will look to the next largest growth driver outside of revenue: talent. The ability to bring in new people and onboard efficiently is crucial for human capital management. Every piece of that talent journey now touches cloud applications. The integration use case at this phase is typically Hire to Retire. (It can also be called Hire to Fire but let’s be a bit more optimistic, shall we.) A candidate is tracked through recruiting applications. Once marked “Offer Accepted”, this triggered integration can create a ticket for IT to procure laptops and automatically creates a new user with appropriate access settings across all the applications the person needs. Similarly when an employee is “powered down”, access across the internal ecosystem of applications can be revoked. While this might seem a bit harsh, this integration flow can save each department thousands of dollars in not paying for unused logins and is a security best practice.
PHASE 5: Community
This phase is focused on integrating to the application ecosystem that influences your internal one, namely your customers and partners. By providing integrations at this level, you are able to create additional lines of revenue outside of your core product (depending on your pricing model) as well as reduce churn to your core product. It’s worth noting that while this is listed as the final phase, because of the revenue opportunities at this stage, many organizations will approach this in tandem with one of the earlier described internal integration phases, using development teams to accomplish external integration and internal IT teams to accomplish internal integrations. Often organizations will standardize on an integration platform at this point to accelerate getting integrations to market. For better economies of scale, an integration platform that can achieve both internal and external integrations with highly repeatable integration artifacts is key. At this phase, the multi-tenancy of your integration architecture and partner relationships with each of the individual applications you pursue has a large impact on your ability to execute.
Leveraging an Integration Maturity Model
Each organization has its own reasons for beginning a journey towards increasing integration between various IT and applications systems in use. The beauty of this phased approach, that we are seeing as the most common pathway taken by successful businesses, is that it helps move an organization to automated workflows and improves integration organizational knowledge methodically. Skills are learned and tested on lower security risk integration use cases, while also moving towards revenue-generating integration opportunities as quickly as possible.