B2b, B2C, Application-2-Application integration – I have been active in data integration scenarios for many years. Typically real time, high volume and increasingly asynchronous. And virtually always fully automated. However, my current customer made me aware of the following situation:
Their organisation is automated to a high degree. Events in one application trigger actions in other applications. Incoming Orders result in activities planned and communicated, all without human intervention. This organisation has frequent interactions with business partners. B2B integration has been the name of their game for a long time.
However, they do business with a number of smaller companies. Companies that do not have the means nor the real need for automation of their information exchange. So there is a mismatch between what my customer would like to do: send orders through electronic messages in fully automated process. And receive order status updates and invoices also as electronic messages. And what the partner companies have to offer: a phone number or email address.
This is not super difficult to resolve of course. If we can send the information from our enterprise applications through a channel (email) and in a form (Excel) that a human user can handle, we can do business with parties that are not as B2B enabled as we would like them to be (or rather: they can pretend to be exactly as B2B enabled as we need them to be). And we create A2H (Application-2-Human) integration.
In the for us inbound direction, something similar is at play: our partner can send an Excel file (in an agreed upon format) to a our inbox email address. A simple mail-consumer application polls the inbox for new mails, retrieves them, processes the attachment and creates a JSON message that is passed to an API or included in an event, If the file’s content is not correct according to the predefined format or rules, the application will send an email to the B2B partner to inform them of the problems with the message.
It is easy to get carried away with fully automating data integration scenarios, end to end, System to system. It is important to keep thinking,. And realizing that a hammer is not always the best tool for the job. Bringing organizations with limited IT facilities and potential into largely automated flows does not have to be very difficult if we think a little bit outside the box.
We need communication and format that are easily manipulated electronically and also accessible to human users. Email and Excel fit this bill perfectly.