Building a roadmap to becoming a data-driven business
Ian Fairclough, VP of EMEA Customer Success at MuleSoft, says an API-led approach is key for businesses to overcome integration challenges and drive true value from their data
Over the past year, demand for digital services has soared, and transformation has become pivotal as organisations try to keep pace with consumer expectations. However, many IT teams are struggling to leverage the data needed to deliver this transformation. According to MuleSoft’s Connectivity Benchmark Report, 90% of IT leaders point to data silos as a major blocker to progress. Organisations that are struggling to connect systems and apps to free up data will inevitably face difficulty in delivering digital-first services — which could ultimately impact revenue.
As well as hindering digital transformation, integration challenges are costly. Many organisations are spending large sums of time and money on custom integrations, costing around £2.5 million per year. To overcome this, organisations need to move away from point-to-point integrations and find a more effective approach to connecting platforms, systems, and applications. Many are now looking towards API-led integration, which offers greater flexibility and agility, all while reducing maintenance costs. For organisations looking to build out their API strategies, there are key steps to follow that will put them on the roadmap to becoming more data-driven.
Integration’s building blocks
The first step in an API-led integration strategy is, naturally, to build APIs. To start, organisations need to unlock the value of their data through a layer of system APIs, which unlock data from core systems of record within an organisation, making this data easily consumable and reusable by any employee. They should then create process APIs that orchestrate this data into a single view of a subject, like a customer or product line. Finally, organisations should create a layer of experience APIs to feed these insights into their services, such as a mobile app for customers.
To help accelerate this process, organisations should also harness tools to simplify the building process. Previously, developers familiar with APIs were essential. However, low-code solutions now enable a drag-and-drop approach to integration, enabling business teams to integrate without writing a single line of code. API templates and pre-built connectors for popular SaaS applications can also reduce time and effort for developers, increasing the productivity of teams. By reusing existing capabilities, organisations can accelerate project delivery, eliminating the need to start every project from scratch each time. For instance, a customer data API could be used to enable a self-verification capability, along with delivering more personalised offers. Creating a central repository where APIs can be discovered for reuse across the organisation will simplify this process.
Shoring up your defences
A security breach has the potential to undermine customer trust and seriously disrupt innovation. Data security is therefore a key pillar of an API strategy. Organisations must work to eliminate vulnerabilities which could derail the journey towards becoming data-driven, through measures such as network edge protection, tokenization, and policy configuration. A comprehensive, multi-layered approach to security will protect the data at rest and in transit within the API itself, as well as around the perimeter.
To achieve this, organisations must ensure that their integration platform is compliant with industry standards, including PCI DSS and HIPAA. They must also have controls in place to guarantee that only authorised users can access their integration platform, so that sensitive information isn’t compromised. Tokenization can prevent data breaches by scrambling protected information so it cannot be read, without impacting functionality. Edge policies should be applied at the perimeter to act as a firewall and defend against common attacks, and API policies such as automated IP whitelisting can be used to ensure only internal users can access data.
Manage and monitor
Once organisations have built their APIs, they must manage them. Setting alerts, defining SLA tiers, and establishing access management are sure-fire ways to support this. API-strategies help take the pressure off developers by empowering business teams to access vital data. Therefore, organisations should identify which business users can benefit from the APIs and then establish mechanisms to enable, authenticate, and govern their API usage.
IT teams must also monitor APIs closely to quickly identify performance issues. In modern digital ecosystems, data is often distributed across several departments, systems, applications, and services — so organisations need the ability to monitor them from one place to maintain clear visibility. Identifying which metrics are most important to their business, and establishing dashboards to closely monitor them will be essential. Configuring alerts and conducting root-cause analysis will also be key to quickly spotting and resolving issues. Finally, monitoring business metrics alongside IT metrics will provide a clearer picture of the ROI driven by APIs.
Embracing data-driven innovation
One company benefiting from API-led data integration is online loan marketplace LendingTree. Its business units were previously disconnected, making it difficult for teams to gain a single view of the customer, which limited their ability to improve services and grow the business. LendingTree deployed Salesforce to create a 360-degree view of the customer, and used API integrations to keep this up to date by drawing in data from its multiple systems and databases in real-time.
IT departments have had a difficult job over the last year, but choosing the right integration strategy will help ease the pressure on teams, empower business users to build for themselves, and help accelerate digital innovation. Taking these first steps on their API journey will place organisations on the road to becoming data-driven, delivering more connected experiences and supercharging business growth.