Final article of a six-part series on the essential interwoven nature of Business and Modern Data Integration
When we're talking about diverse categories of users for data management software solutions such as data and application integration, it's essential to understand the perspective of each group of users and their needs and abilities, in order to develop the most suitable user interface and the right capabilities for each category.
The future of cloud integration platforms may belong to vendors that step up to truly understand diverse users and then deliver what they require to be successful.
Today cloud-based integration platforms are opening access to different categories of users including less-technical business users. Business users have begun to assume more hands-on use of integration capabilities to run pre-built integrations, profile datasets, perform data prep functions, and even create basic integrations through wizards and pre-configured components. This is a very important means to an equally important end: taking advantage of the availability of more data to help these users do their jobs better, to benefit the organization.
Vendors for cloud integration platforms are also beginning to recognize and support diverse technical users. There can be quite a bit of difference between a technically-adept line-of-business developer who lacks deep experience for creating integration processes, and a developer who is a data integration expert and likely tackling complex integration scenarios. Each category of developer requires the right user interface and capabilities to create, run and manage integrations, in order to accomplish work requirements and support business objectives.
I recently talked with a vendor that is focused on providing a single cloud integration platform for diverse user categories. The vendor is building out a framework of ten different categories of technical and business roles with a clear view to how the platform would be used by each category. This exploration of how different users make use of integration capabilities should help this vendor streamline and perfect what it takes for different users to work well not only on their own but with other user categories when needed. This requires the platform to guide each user category to the appropriate capabilities, including a role-responsive or adaptive UI.
Another cloud integration vendor is developing a vision for multiple categories of users with schematics for how they may continuously interact during several aspects of typical integration phases. For each category of user, the appropriate platform capabilities are pinpointed along the integration phase continuum. The vendor wants to expand the solution platform to shepherd and enable this symbiotic approach to business and IT working together for more effective integration processes.
When we're talking about different categories of users for data management functions, it's essential to understand the perspective of each group of users and their needs and abilities, in order to develop the most suitable user interface and the right capabilities for each category. In that sense, it takes an outside-in perspective, working from what different users need from data management functions like data integration, and how they are comfortable working. This is a very different approach for most integration vendors – the focus has long been solely on the technology (which obviously is still important). However usability from the user perspective has been a critical topic for software vendors for quite a while.
The Technologies Behind "Simple" User Interfaces
A cloud integration platform that is designed to support a variety of user access options clearly requires the development of sophisticated technologies that essentially make the complex seem simple to the user. Different categories of users often require variable versions of the same user interface that are streamlined for ease of use, and that provide access to role-appropriate capabilities.
As such, the integration solution can be distinctly shaped by the variety of user roles that are provided access to the platform.
Often the work done to enable less-technical users can also benefit UIs and capabilities for more technically-adept users, providing faster paths to creating integrations. More technical users can take advantage of pre-built integrations, shared services and components that require little or no coding, just as less technical users can. For those who need it, most cloud integration platforms include the ability to customize and extend pre-built integrations through coding and other methods.
Obviously to keep less technical users on the straight-and-narrow, monitoring and management by centralized IT teams behind the scenes are essential elements. Setting up the right balance of management and freedom for business users will take some hard work, but will pay off as certain integration activities can be handed off to business users. This is another area of business-IT collaboration that requires IT to enable business users to work with integration processes, not to prohibit them.
Cloud integration platforms provide other technologies to guide all categories of users to more quickly and confidently build, test and run integration processes. Such technologies include role-aware, interactive "tooltip" constructs that pop up in the UI in response to an action or choice. The influence of mobile apps and digital games can be seen in the better "tip systems".
UI-based guidance techniques include "crowd-sourced" recommendations that are derived from the analysis of all integrations in multi-tenant platforms. Analysis processes look at how similar integrations have handled certain steps or are constructed overall, elucidated by the context of what the user is trying to accomplish. Equally helpful, interactive assistance tools focus on quickly resolving errors by showing the most likely solutions in order of relevance.
The UI has become an essential element for usability in cloud integration platforms and obviously has inspired a great deal of innovation to benefit all users.
The User Experience of Data
In a sense, diverse business roles and different kinds of developers have both been "underserved" by integration solutions. All too often non-IT users are lumped into the single blob of "business users" which is pretty useless for understanding much about who those business users are or how they want to – or even should – use integration solutions. And developers are usually seen primarily as data integration experts, rather than acknowledging the diversity of developer categories that need to create integrations regardless of the extent of their knowledge about integrations.
Diversity of users for cloud integration solutions isn't going away. More roles in organizations want and need to work hands on with data management functions to help generate the datasets that they need for their jobs and their business objectives. So the vendors that step up and deliver what different users require will take cloud integration platforms into the future.
Just like any user experience challenge, the gateways to integration solutions - user interfaces – have to work well for each category of user. So vendors have to understand a lot more about the different kinds of users who want access to integration solutions and about the user experience they should have, to ensure the success of all users. For cloud integration platform vendors, providing outstanding user experiences – for diverse users – is an invaluable differentiator
Image source: http://synergy.kuniv.edu/
About the author: Julie is an independent consultant and industry analyst for B2B software solutions, providing services to vendors to improve strategies for customers and target markets, products and solutions, and future direction. Julie has expertise in several solution spaces including: data integration and data quality; analytics and BI; business process, workflow and collaboration; digital marketing, WCM and social media; and the pivotal importance of user and customer experiences. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategies for B2B Software Solutions: Working from the Customer Perspective