Article by: Scott Nelson
The reason why new enterprise technology imperatives continuously capture attention is that the perfect universal IT solution is still a long way in the future. Until that perfection is realized, there will be a need for system integration solutions — and new challenges in implementing them.
The explosive proliferation of cloud solutions is creating challenges for both vendors and enterprises. Integration approaches that worked well for monolithic, on-premise applications are well understood and readily consumable, so re-using them can seem like a good idea. However, what looks easy at a high level may become a massive struggle when design moves to implementation. In the case of cloud adoption, integration APIs that are easily consumed by custom-developed applications can become unwieldy when needed in a declarative implementation-style cloud application.
Technologies generally evolve to be more flexible, more reliable, and simpler to use. For early adopters, the legacy approach was to build a custom adapter to bridge the gaps between levels of maturity. These custom adapters are labor-intensive to develop and difficult to maintain. A faster approach is to combine pre-built, standards-based tools in order to reduce the complexity of the integration. In this article, I’ll examine one such solution to provide a concrete example that is adaptable to similar challenges.
Case Study: Company X’s Workday-to-SAP 4/HANA Integration
Company X is a well-known consumer technology company that needed to synchronize HR data from Workday as a source to SAP for use in automatic workflow routing.
At the 50,000-foot level, integrating data from cloud-based Workday to SAP looks simple. Workday is a mature, enterprise-grade software-as-a-service (SaaS) application that has been serving major multi-nationals since 2008 and has a comprehensive library of SOAP-based APIs. SAP provides so many interfaces that question is never whether something can be integrated, but which option best fits the needs of the particular solution.
Drop down to the 10,000-foot level and the first thing you notice is that (no surprise) the same data is modeled and formatted differently between the two applications. We decided at the outset to use Informatica Cloud as an integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) solution, and these types of transformations fall right into a mature sweet-spot for Informatica. No real worries … yet.
Stepping into the arena and looking at the two sides of source and target, differences take on a much more distinct outline. Like any good ERP system, SAP has rules for data relationships, as does Workday. The challenge arises when those rules look very different.
APIs tend to follow data structures, so what looked like snapping two large puzzle pieces together from 50,000 feet away, now looks like a maze from 100 yards distance. The fastest way to navigate a maze is with a well-defined map, which helps us get the data in the first time. Then we learn that the return trip with data updates introduces a whole new level of complexity. We still have our map, but now when we are actually navigating the maze, we learn that it changes on subsequent trips. Sometimes we even have to solve a puzzle blindfolded to get around the next corner.
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