What is application integration? Here’s everything you need to know

Just a couple years ago, research found that the average employee moves between apps more than 1,000 times a day. 

Clearly, this harms an employee’s productivity and their satisfaction with their job. And yet, the issue of app-hopping appears to be worsening, as organizations small and large continue to adopt more and more apps

Fortunately, there’s a way to mitigate app-hopping, among other negative outcomes that come with adopting a broad set of technologies, and it involves performing application integration.

We’ll review what application integration really means, how it can be applied, the benefits it brings your organization, and a type of technology that lets you implement it (and do a whole lot more).

Related: Everything you need to know about enterprise application integration

What is application integration?

It’s the process of enabling cloud apps, on-prem systems, and apps in hybrid environments to communicate with one another, typically via their application programming interfaces (APIs). Once connected, your data can be easily kept in sync across apps.

It’s worth noting that application integration is different from data integration—which is the process of collecting data from several source systems and then organizing that data in a centralized location (typically a data warehouse). 

Examples of application integration

To give you a better sense of how application integration can work, let’s walk through a couple of use cases.

1. Integrate your CRM platform and your marketing automation tool to help marketers and sales reps work together productively

As your marketers execute drip campaigns that build interest among prospects, your sales reps will want to know the moment when a prospect qualifies for a sales conversation. 

Connecting the customer relationship management (CRM) platform your sales reps work on and the marketing automation tool your marketers leverage can help you do just that.

For example, once the apps are integrated and the data is moving between them in real time, sales reps can learn exactly when a prospect’s lead score reaches a level at which they’re sales-ready. The appropriate rep can then contact the prospect quickly, and in doing so, be more successful in their outreach. 

2. Sync your recruiting tool and your HRIS platform to streamline employee onboarding

Once a candidate signs their offer letter, your organization will want to move quickly in setting them up with the appropriate tools and equipment. Why? Because it ensures that the new hire can hit the ground running on their first day, and it can leave them with a positive first impression of your organization. 

To that end, you can integrate a human resources information system (HRIS) and a recruiting tool. You can then build a simple workflow where once a candidate is marked as hired in the recruiting tool, their profile gets created in the HRIS. 

The new hire’s HRIS profile can include information from their account in the recruiting tool, among other apps—assuming other apps have relevant information on the new hire and are also integrated with the HRIS.

Obviously, there are several more steps that need to be taken once the new hire’s profile gets created in your HRIS—and an end-to-end workflow automation can help tackle them. But this, in and of itself, saves your team time and it moves you one step closer to onboarding the new hire successfully.

3. Connect your ERP system with your business communications platform to manage client invoices with greater ease

As your organization grows its client base, it’ll become increasingly difficult to keep tabs on individual clients and their invoices. 

You can help your colleagues in finance manage each more easily over time by syncing your enterprise resource planning system (e.g. NetSuite) with your organization’s business communications platform (e.g. Slack). 

For instance, once integrated, you can set up a simple workflow that notifies colleagues in finance—via your business communications platform—when a client is late on a payment. Your colleagues can then move quickly in taking whatever steps are necessary to collect the payment in full.

Why is application integration important? 

There’s a number of reasons why application integration is valuable for your organization. Here are just a few that are worth highlighting:

It fosters healthy collaboration across lines of business

By providing accurate, matching data across your applications, lines of business can collaborate more effectively and deliver better bottom-line results for the business. 

In more concrete terms:

  • Sales reps and marketers can access the same information on prospects, allowing them to work in tandem throughout the prospect’s lifecycle. 
  • Customer success managers (CSMs) and engineers can view escalated tickets and check on the status of any. This prevents each party from constantly asking the other for information, and it allows CSMs to provide accurate status updates to clients. 
  • CSMs and employees in accounts receivable can access the same invoicing data, enabling the latter to avoid reminding CSMs when one of their accounts is late on paying an invoice or hasn’t paid it in full.
A checkmark inside a circular shape

It prevents costly errors

The process of manually re-entering data across apps can quickly lead to human errors that negatively impact clients, prospects, employees, and job candidates. 

Here are just a few examples:

  • An employee in finance puts the incorrect contract value in the ERP system, leading to an invoice that charges the customer by the wrong amount 
  • An employee in customer success copies a customer issue from the CRM platform to the ITSM tool, but accidentally inputs the wrong client
  • An employee in HR creates an offer letter that includes a lower salary and a different job title than what’s in the candidate’s profile in the recruiting app

With application integration, employees by and large don’t have to worry about making these mistakes, as the data they put into one app can instantly carry over to others with complete accuracy.

Related: Application integration vs data integration

An icon of lightning

It boosts employee productivity 

When employees hop between apps throughout the day, they’re losing a substantial amount of time. 

According to Slack, the majority of professionals spend at least 30 minutes moving between apps; worse, research by Maven discovered that most professionals spend an hour (or longer) app-hopping. 

Integrating your apps removes the need to constantly switch between apps, as your employees can access the data they need in the platforms they use every day. 

This not only goes a long way in helping employees get meaningful time back, but it also allows them to focus more on thoughtful, strategic work that can deliver value to the business.

An icon of a person with stars above them

It lifts the employee experience

It’s little surprise that allowing employees to focus on more thought-provoking work isn’t just good for the business, but also for your employees’ satisfaction. 

The vast majority of employees would go so far as to give up some of their salary just to feel like they’re doing important work; while nearly half of employees who are actively looking to switch jobs believe that their employer isn’t making full use of their skills and expertise.

In short, helping employees focus more of their time on thought-provoking work can help you retain them and keep them engaged.

A hammer and a wrench crossing each other

It lets you hold onto valuable legacy systems and adopt new technologies

Certain legacy, on-prem systems offer unique value that newer cloud apps simply can’t address. Moreover, the prospect of replacing one of these legacy systems can be an expensive, time-consuming proposition, as it might involve training employees on using the replacement.

With application integration, you can hold on to these legacy systems, as well as use their data in new ways via the apps they’ve integrated with.

Related: How to integrate legacy systems with the rest of your tech stack

Popular types of application integration

Generally speaking, you can either build integrations in-house via custom code (otherwise known as point-to-point integrations), or use a 3rd-party tool, which often takes the form of an integration platform as a service (iPaaS) or a legacy, on-prem middleware platform (e.g. enterprise service bus, or ESB).  

Despite their inherent differences, both approaches share many of the same pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Data silos get eliminated, allowing employees to avoid app-hopping, data entry, and potential misalignment with colleagues
  • Employee satisfaction is likely to improve, as enabling employees to focus less on tedious tasks (like those outlined in the previous bullet) and more on strategic, meaningful work is proven to improve the employee experience
  • Employees are less likely to make costly human errors, as they no longer need to perform as many manual, error-prone tasks

Cons:

  • It can take precious time away from your dev team, when they can be focused, instead, on other critical tasks
  • As integration requests increase, your team’s integration backlog can quickly balloon 
  • Your organization is left vulnerable when the developers who understand specific integrations leave your company (remaining employees may not know how to fix or improve the integrations)
An image of several stick-figure people colored in pink and a few who aren't colored in
  • The timeline for building the integrations can be long, which causes data silos to persist and business partners to be disappointed

At this point, you might be wondering if there’s a better way to integrate your apps. 

As it turns out, there’s an option that not only allows your team to implement integrations more easily, but also build powerful automations that work across your apps and streamline your business processes.

How an integration-led automation platform lets you integrate your apps and automate your workflows at scale

An integration-led automation platform allows IT and lines of business to build integrations between apps, on-prem systems, databases, etc. without having to write a single line of code. This, in and of itself, addresses the cons highlighted above, but the platform’s utility doesn’t stop there.

The platform also offers:

  • Enterprise chatbots that allow your employees to work in their apps and automate their workflows without leaving their business communications platform 
  • Infinite scalability, with 100% uptime and zero maintenance required
  • A library of ready-to-use connectors and recipes (automations) that empower your team to brainstorm automations and take any live quickly 
  • The ability to move high volumes of data into data warehouses fast
  • Low-code API management, both for internal teams and external partners

Ready to get started? You can learn how Workato, the leader in integration-led automation, can help your organization by scheduling a demo with one of our automation experts.

About the author
Jon Gitlin Content Strategist @ Workato
Jon Gitlin is the managing editor of The Connector, where you can get the latest news on Workato and uncover tips and frameworks for implementing powerful integrations and automations. In his free time, he loves to run outside, watch soccer (er...football) matches, and explore local restaurants.