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Platform Migration & Modernization

What about Boomi, Apigee, Informatica, and…? MuleSoft vs The Competition’s Partial Solutions to the Integration Puzzle

Jigsaw puzzle sales soared when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Puzzles allow families, with plenty of time on their hands, to unwind and collaborate on the solution to a common challenge. Puzzle manufacturers work hard to ensure there are no missing pieces in a box, but when mistakes are made, it’s disappointing to have invested so much time in a solution only to find out that the solution was not available because pieces were missing.

This analogy is very relevant to the integration challenges faced by today’s IT executives. Many have a plethora of integration software either already purchased or currently being evaluated as possible solutions to challenges; however, it’s typically very unclear how each piece fits together into a cohesive whole. It’s equally unclear as to whether or not every piece of the puzzle is included in the “box” or whether they’ll finish the puzzle and have missing pieces that prevent them from fully addressing their integration challenges. 

In our whitepaper, “The Value of MuleSoft Anypoint Platform”, we discuss how MuleSoft allows companies to design and roll out comprehensive API-led integration strategies that reduce go-live timelines, increase developer efficiency and asset reuse, remove common roadblocks that gate digital transformation initiatives, and ultimately drive a better integration strategy that leads to an overall lower total cost of ownership. 

A common question we’ve received in response to this whitepaper goes something like this:

“Well I’m already using Boomi for integration. Why can’t I just do this with Boomi?”

The answer is simple: Boomi only solves a small piece of the puzzle.

Partial Solutions are Partial Homegrown

We don’t mean to pick on Dell Boomi in particular. You can substitute many alternatives: 

  • Apigee
  • Informatica
  • IBM API Connect
  • Azure API Management
  • SnapLogic
  • And many other integration and API solutions 

With any of those products, you’ll still come up with the same answer: these solutions are only solving a small piece of the puzzle. The rest of the puzzle still needs to be solved. Solving it involves pulling in more partial solutions and integrating them together (using custom code) or creating homegrown solutions to implement the missing features (also using custom code).

Categories of Partial Solutions

These partial solutions typically fall into three discrete categories:

  • Tactical integrators: short-term tactical approach to connect two systems together
  • API Specialists: policy and routing but not much else
  • Legacy integration platforms: heavyweight solutions of yesteryear that were created to address yesterday’s integration problems

Tactical integrators provide a toolset that allows for accelerated development and fuel a short-term tactical mindset for integration needs. These technologies rely on prebuilt connectors into data sources and some level of drag-and-drop tooling to accelerate point-to-point development patterns. While these patterns may lead to short-term gains in delivery speed because of accelerated development, in the long term your integration strategy will suffer the same pitfalls as point-to-point: Ross Mason’s big ball of mud. This situation is outside of the scope of this blog entry and a wealth of information can be found in “The Value of MuleSoft Anypoint Platform” whitepaper. Common examples here include Boomi, SnapLogic, and Jitterbit.

API specialists provide gateway and proxy use cases that facilitate control and governance over APIs once they are deployed. While these platforms do a great job of handling API gateway scenarios around governance, policy enforcement, and routing, they do not handle anything else involved in executing a robust API-led strategy; connectivity, orchestration, and payload transformation are fully reliant on custom coding of API implementations. See pages 11 and 12 in our whitepaper for the comprehensive list of necessary functionality that’s missing from platforms that focus merely on the API gateway aspect of API-led connectivity. Common examples of this type of solution include Apigee, CA API Gateway (formerly Layer7), and Tibco Mashery. 

Legacy Integration Platforms are very heavyweight solutions that involve proprietary products that need to be integrated together to work effectively. These solutions are very complex, requiring a great deal of both setup and maintenance costs in addition to high infrastructure costs. Given that they are legacy in nature, many either do not support modern APIs or have bolt-on API functionality that was built on top of technology that was not intended to address modern connectivity challenges. These platforms all suffer from an “integrating your integration platforms together” type of mindset and don’t provide everything that is needed to roll out an API-led integration strategy.

MuleSoft Anypoint Platform: The Entire Puzzle In One Box

Using any of the partial solutions mentioned above, your development team is responsible for determining the size and shape of the missing puzzle pieces and for constructing them from scratch to address the gaps in your puzzle. And unlike the family at the beginning of our story with time to burn and a jigsaw puzzle to solve as a family-bonding activity, IT executives don’t have time to burn and integration is not a recreational activity. They need real solutions to quickly address their integration challenges and remove roadblocks to transformation efforts.

The true value of MuleSoft Anypoint Platform is that it provides an organization with everything required to be successful in executing a modern API-led integration strategy. Instead of reinventing the wheel, MuleSoft customers enjoy the ability to apply nearly 100% of their focus to what matters: business scenarios. For more in-depth information on how MuleSoft Anypoint Platform provides everything needed to tackle modern integration challenges and pave the way for lower overall TCO, check out “The Value of MuleSoft Anypoint Platform” whitepaper and let us know what you think.

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Digital Transformation Platform Migration & Modernization

Salesforce Is Still Not a CRM

Over two and a half years ago, we made the statement that Salesforce is not a CRM. In the time that has passed since that blog was authored, I’ve continued to encounter this misconception day-after-day in the field. Statements like “Salesforce? That’s just a CRM right?” or “Isn’t that just for sales forecasting and workflow automation?” are pretty common when our team works with customers to maximize the value that Salesforce brings to their organizations.

The short answer is no. Salesforce is actually a best-of-class Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) that enables the acceleration of development efforts and less costly maintenance for any business-user centric set of user interface and workflow scenarios. And now, with MulesSoft, it extends to every back-end integration need required for supplying data and receiving data from these business-user centric scenarios along with any data and integration centric use case imaginable.

To see why these two PaaS platforms are so powerful, let’s first examine the concept of full-stack development, how many technologies are typically involved, and then examine the role that these two platforms play in simplifying this paradigm.

Full-Stack Developer Unicorns

The term “full-stack developer” is pretty common in the technology world. These developers, relative unicorns of their craft, are capable of developing back-end services (retrieving and modifying data, integrating systems together, or codifying business logic) and user interfaces. These developers typically use a broad array of different technologies on both the UI and the back-end to implement the full deliverable. The reason these developers are thought of as relative unicorns is the sheer number of technologies that must be mastered to implement functionality from the user interface all the way down to the database. In a typical build, you’re looking at, at a minimum:

  • HTML to represent the page elements of the user interface.
  • CSS to add style, color, and structure to the page.
  • A JavaScript framework (Vue, Angular, Angular2, etc.) to retrieve data necessary to render the page dynamically and react to user inputs such as clicks and taps.
  • Numerous JavaScript add-ons to perform basic UI functionality like making a page render appropriately on mobile phones, creating common UI elements like picklists, integrating with common web analytics solutions, adding social media interactions to the page, etc. A typical website contains dozens of add-ons that need to be maintained.
  • A database to serve as the source of truth for various data records needed by the UI.
  • Some type of programmatic middleware like Java, .NET, or Node.js to expose services that can be utilized by the user interface.
  • Dozens of other ancillary components necessary for doing things like exposing, securing, and governing the webservices, performing operations like OAuth handshakes for social logins, communicating with other systems in the IT environment, and reading, writing, and modifying data typically stack on top of the middleware solution and play a role in implementing the various workflows required to serve the necessary user experience.

The sheer number of systems, software, and add-on components in play that need to be maintained mean that developing solutions in this fashion is time-consuming and the maintenance costs required to keep the lights on are fairly significant.

How Salesforce Simplifies Full-Stack Development

To our team, Salesforce is a set of two PaaS clouds—namely MuleSoft Anypoint Platform’s Cloudhub and the Salesforce Lightning Platform—capable of modernizing and accelerating full-stack software development. These two PaaS offerings allow you to do the full-stack work above and accelerate software development lifecycle from top to bottom, eliminating the need for stitching together so many different pieces of software to complete each piece of the puzzle.

The “how” is beyond the scope of this blog, but the following high-level benefits can be achieved by using these two solutions:

  • Most “table stakes” functionality like data modeling and integration services, user login and security, management of common workflows, page layout responsiveness to mobile, and cross-component communication is baked into Salesforce’s Lightning Platform.
  • Many common high-level business workflows (sales, quoting, customer service, SLA enforcement, customer engagement, field service operations, complex business analytics, and more) are already baked into the Salesforce Lightning Platform as licensable applications supported by Salesforce and customizable to the user. Think of these as bolt-on value to your business.
  • MuleSoft contains built-in connectors to common systems that need to be integrated with like ERPs, data warehouses, social media, SaaS platforms, mainframes, and more.
  • A properly-designed MuleSoft Application Network grows in business value as more systems are connected and all future integration needs get simpler as the number of integrations grows. With the previous development model, integration complexity grows with each integration added.

Combining the two solutions together eliminates dozens and dozens of necessary software solutions and add-on components that need to be maintained, updated, and managed by your IT team. Savvy CIOs can now replace them all with two PaaS solutions and eliminate a lot of headaches that come from managing so many different technologies. When you think of the possibilities of combining these two solutions together, it’s easy to see what Marc Benioff envisioned when he shelled out a 22x revenue multiplier to bring MuleSoft into the Salesforce family.

Ok, but what about the use cases? Aren’t I limited with these low-code platforms?

Most of our team comes from backgrounds in product development, enterprise architecture and development, and custom software solution design. If you can name a software platform, our team likely has experience developing solutions either directly on that platform or on something very similar. When we originally heard terms like “low-code development”, our minds immediately went to lack of flexibility. What we’ve found is that these solutions do not have the flexibility gaps that we expected, but they instead allow the business to dictate complexity and cost based on business value and requirements. They give businesses the power to decide whether a specific piece of functionality is important enough to roll out a custom experience for or if a standard out-of-the-box experience will suffice at a fraction of the implementation and maintenance cost.

Using Salesforce solutions, we’ve been able to implement the following use cases that are decidedly of the non-CRM variety:

  • An agent-facing portal for over 100,000 life insurance agents to manage policies, define relationships between prospects, and write new policies
  • Integration into risk analysis data that provides loan officers a 360-degree of how each of their commercial business loans are progressing through underwriting
  • Streamlined management of cradle-to-grave workflows for a large, global team of field service workers who repair and perform preventative maintenance on high-end medical devices for universities and other resource organizations.
  • New onboarding of independent agencies for property and casualty insurance aimed to reduce agent onboarding timeline and eliminate data entry errors and streamline the application and onboarding process.
  • An integrated application network that allows dozens of 3rd-party integrations that are used to build a quote for homeowner’s insurance to be swapped without impacting other elements of the system like the policy system.
  • Finally, for ourselves, we use Salesforce for everything from revenue reporting and forecasting (definitely functions of a CRM) to everything that happens after one of our services deals closes, including contract generation, resource utilization and assignment, project health, profitability measurements, and high-level project workflow governance and enforcement.

Wrapping Things Up

The simplest way to think of Salesforce is that it’s a platform aimed to simplify and accelerate the development of any business-user facing experience. Simplicity of customization, built-in generic and user-specific workflows, and ability to selectively go as complex as the business needs dictate all converge to create the best platform for developing business-user centric functionality that we have ever worked on. The addition of MuleSoft in 2018 facilitated acceleration of development of any back-end interaction necessary for driving the user experiences required by the business, handling the complexity that happens behind the scenes with ease.

We are incredibly passionate about these platforms and the benefits they provide for businesses that utilize them correctly. Talk to us about how we can help your business start achieving the maximum impact these solutions can provide today.

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Digital Transformation Platform Migration & Modernization

The Key to Modernizing Your Legacy Systems – The Value of MuleSoft

Legacy software is all around us, and it’s driving mission-critical software systems. These systems are often responsible for critical areas of businesses like insurance claims processing, bank transactions, and inventory management. Today’s stakeholder demands visibility into what’s happening in these systems and does not know or care that these systems were not designed to support today’s digital initiatives.

This blog lays out the landscape and describes how these legacy systems came to be so prevalent, the role they play in today’s enterprise IT environments, and the role MuleSoft can play in unlocking these systems and allowing businesses to incorporate these mission-critical workflows within the digital initiatives of today.

Ancient Times: The Year 2005

Like many of our engineers at Green Irony, I started my career at IBM working in R&D on middleware software platforms. More specifically, I was part of IBM’s WebSphere Application Server Network Deployment product development team. If you’re not familiar with the product, this Java Enterprise Edition platform served as middleware and allowed both IBM and customers to build custom applications adhering to the JEE spec while also adding several other valuable pieces that went beyond the scope of the spec like high availability, dynamic caching, load balancing, etc. that allowed the platform to scale to the demands of the enterprise. If you’ve heard of Microsoft’s .NET platform, you can think of them as similar and virtually interchangeable for the purposes of this article.

I came onto the team in 2005 near the middle of the development cycle for WAS (WebSphere Application Server) 6.1, which was released in the summer of 2006. At that point in time, the product was mature in the market and in heavy use by many of the major banks, insurance carriers, retailers, and other large enterprise technology teams. This product and .NET were basically “how things were done” in the enterprise during that time period, but SaaS software and new paradigms like mobile would soon enter the picture and heavily disrupt the technology landscape.

Ancient Software Relics in a Changed World: The Year 2019

The software platforms and development paradigms that we utilized from my time as a product developer in 2005 still exist today and cannot be ignored. In order to highlight why using these older patterns today is such a challenge, keep in mind that the following table-stakes technology concepts were still little known, non-existent, or pie-in-the-sky in 2005:

  • Mobile web and application usage
  • Cloud computing, SaaS, PaaS
  • API economies
  • Data warehouse and data lakes
  • Predictive analytics and artificial intelligence
  • The ubiquitous “Digital transformation” umbrella of initiatives
  • The Chief Digital Officer position
  • The original iPhone

In short, the technology landscape has been turned upside down since I first started my career at IBM. Despite this fact, the same patterns used to develop software on WAS in the year 2005 are still in heavy use. From my lens as a technology consultant, these patterns are still in use for two primary scenarios:

  1. Legacy systems in enterprise environments that have mission-critical data and workflows
  2. Slow-moving but mission-critical technology stacks in industries where even new products are still developed with these patterns. Good examples are insurance policies, claims, and billing systems or the majority of generally available e-commerce platforms.

Even in industries like insurance where the in-house technology stack has been slow to evolve, the customer’s needs and demands in the digital arena have not. The customer expects to be able to obtain the information that they need when they need it. They don’t care about the fact that your policy system is on a mainframe that was stood up in the 1970s—they want to be able to modify their shipping address and billing information in self-service scenarios, review claim information on the fly, and receive a quote for a new policy without having to enter a ton of information.

How to Modernize Your Legacy Systems

Since these legacy systems are not going away any time soon, technology executives must find new and better ways to retrofit them into the bigger picture of their technology visions to drive value to their customers. This goal is easier said than done since these systems pre-dated digital transformation initiatives by a decade or more and thus were never intended to address these challenges. Our task then is to make these systems communicate in ways that didn’t exist when they were created.

MuleSoft is the best and only solution in the market that is tailor-made for accomplishing this mission. While many Enterprise Service Buses (ESB) and other integration solutions exist, no other was purpose-built for solving these problems and other options feature heavy compromises. With a projected number of over $800 billion spent on tactical integration projects in 2018 (roughly 22% of all IT budgets), solving these integration challenges is critical or enterprises risk treading water and falling behind in the rapidly-evolving digital landscape. Investment in this area solidifies the foundation of an enterprise IT environment, enabling the organization to deliver on new projects exponentially faster as MuleSoft’s presence and its library of reusable assets grow with time.

MuleSoft’s value is broad in scope and impossible to capture in a blog of this length. At a high level, think of it as a platform, toolset, mindset, and prescriptive approach that allows your line of business to work with your technology and development team on a platform that provides the following benefits:

  • Facilitation of best practices in architecture and development of APIs
  • Rapid development on a platform built to sustain and grow entire enterprise networks of APIs
  • Integration with legacy systems by transforming them into modern, consumable APIs
  • Reduction of operational overhead and complexity via an optional PaaS deployment model
  • Increase in developer efficiency via re-use of lego-like assets in an “Apple AppStore” sharing model
  • Capture, ownership, and re-use of enterprise business rules and logic as API assets
  • Provide, orchestrate, govern, and secure everything on a single unified platform

All of these benefits add up to real business value and increase in the “clock speed” of a business, enabling the business to deliver value to stakeholders much faster than it otherwise would have been able to with the same number of technology resources.

What’s Next

We believe that MuleSoft is the key to unlocking enterprise IT environments to effectively drive digital transformation efforts and one of the most strategic technology investments a business can make. While the toolset itself is revolutionary in that it combines a highly-effective technology platform that was purpose-built to task with architectural and delivery methodologies effective at providing the guardrails necessary for successful execution, a great deal of expertise in enterprise architecture and development is critical in ensuring a solid MuleSoft foundation. In other words, while MuleSoft does not reduce the need for top-end architects and developers, it does provide these top-end architects and developers with a superior toolset to operate on that eliminates a great deal of time-consuming and tedious tasks, allowing them to focus on design, re-usability, scalability, and architectural best practices and to accomplish more in the same amount of time.

Want to dive deeper into the benefits of MuleSoft? In our post, Balancing The Scales of API Networks with MuleSoft and Cloudhub, Kevin McAbee breaks down how MuleSoft can be a fulcrum in the balance between your business’s needs and the methods and speed of technology to address those needs.

Want to learn more about why Green Irony is so excited about MuleSoft? We’d love to hear from you.

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Digital Transformation

Quest for the Single Pane of Glass

If you’ve worked with technology platforms like Salesforce for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Single Pane of Glass” (SPOG) used. For business users, this holy grail of data-driven decision making gives users the ability to look at all critical pieces of a specific area of the business (or even the entire business) in one place, enabling a holistic view of exactly what’s going on in real time. This view allows them to make informed decisions on how to solve problems or make improvements to their processes, all backed by real data.

The Quest for the Holy Grail

This concept sounds–and in reality, is–great. Who wouldn’t want real-time visibility into all relevant business metrics in a single solution? Who wouldn’t want to look at everything in one place without the need to export spreadsheets and spend hours munging data together to come to a single conclusion, only to repeat the process for each discrete metric that needs measured and decision that needs made? Finally, who wouldn’t want the ability to make decisions more rapidly, innovate more quickly, and move the needle of the business at a breakneck pace?

There’s one key challenge to finding this holy grail, and it’s the same challenge that we’ve come back to as technology professionals for decades and one that is not unique to the Single Pane of Glass: siloed data that lives in disparate systems. While cutting-edge, best-of-breed technologies like Salesforce have accelerated our abilities to provide this single pane of glass view by leaps and bounds, there’s no silver bullet or Houdini-esque magic trick that solves the data accessibility challenges posed by an enterprise IT environment. In real-life environments, this data is often spread across a rapidly-growing list of silos of disconnected software, databases, legacy mainframes, 3rd-party applications, mobile data stores, spreadsheets, IoT devices, and more.

In order to have the Single Pane of Glass view, this challenge must be solved; the data has to be unlocked and accessible by our SPOG provider.

Enter the Application Network

What if we had a standardized way for all of the applications within the silos mentioned above to talk to one another and to communicate and surface their data to one another in a standard way? After all, Salesforce’s SPOG view is only one consumer in need of data from these systems; a truly integrated software environment should have all of these silos working together as a cohesive unit, each with distinct roles and adding differentiating value to the IT environment and the business as a whole. But how do we make applications that were never designed to talk to one another communicate seamlessly?

This is the promise of the Application Network, which is facilitated by the MuleSoft Anypoint Platform.

MuleSoft is a best-of-breed integration platform that allows organizations to create Application Networks, which greatly eases the burden of standing up production-grade integrations between the various components in your IT infrastructure. By harnessing the power of the application network, even data living in legacy applications can be “unlocked” and thus leveraged within any of your business’s needs, including but not limited to creating SPOG views into your processes. The Application Network allows all of these technologies to communicate more effectively and drive tangible business results, and investment in it sets your organization up to be more agile to better address the future needs of the business.

How Is This Different?

You might be saying to yourself “Yes, integration has always been a challenge, so how does a buzzword like “Application Network” change things?”

I’m glad you asked. The power of the MuleSoft Application Network spans several different areas:

  • Reusability: Once an application or data silo is online on the application network and integrated with another application, other applications that need to communicate can use the same assets that were already developed. Compare this with the standard point-to-point approach of yesterday, which creates a tight coupling of two applications within your IT environment but does nothing for you the next time you need to integrate one of those two applications with something else.
  • Delivery Speed: Because of the re-usability of the assets being created and the opportunity for a clicks-not-code approach via flow orchestrations, MuleSoft customers typically achieve a 4-6X increase in delivery speed for integration-related projects.
  • Standardization: An API is essentially a contract that defines how to communicate with a specific application or data silo. Building an application network allows your organization to define these contracts over time, surfacing business functionality that can be used to meet the present and future needs of the business.
  • One Solution: The MuleSoft Anypoint Platform was designed to be everything needed to design, implement, maintain, govern, re-use, document, share, and enhance integration-related assets. It is a holistic solution capable of replacing dozens of disconnected pieces of integration in areas like API documentation, governance, security, integration, orchestration, visualization, and reporting. Do you really want to integrate your integration software components together into a solution?
  • Enablement: The Application Network represents a shift in how IT organizations provide value to the business. In yesterday’s IT culture, the business would come up with a scenario needing integration, and IT would develop a solution to meet the integration needs. With MuleSoft, IT becomes an enabler for the rest of the business units, facilitating consumption of existing assets and adding new assets only when necessary.

Single Pane of Glass Made Easy

With a proper application network in place, every effort to build a single pane of glass view into a specific process is not a new one. By leveraging the Application Network, each new initiative becomes less time consuming and business stakeholders realize value faster. Over time, these initiatives have a snowball effect of enhancing the application network, which then speeds up future initiatives, and so on.

In today’s business environment, the only constant is change. Whether you’re creating a single pane of glass view, migrating off of legacy software, or connecting that shiny new CRM into your existing infrastructure, the Application Network allows you to be ready to meet this change head on.

Want to learn more about the power of the MuleSoft Application Network? Contact us today.