Choosing the Right Integration Approach for Your Connectivity Needs
This article originally appeared in BlackLine Magazine.
With accounting modernization and process automation on the rise, one thing that continues to challenge companies is the lack of data transmission between platforms. Every company’s needs are different, and no two companies are alike—so what one company deploys could be insufficient for another.
When discussing connectivity requirements, companies must consider the entire system architecture to determine how data is flowing between systems and to ensure proper connections are established.
Careful review of current integration points and potential new additions to a company’s current platform is crucial to making the most of its software solutions and enabling many of the automations most companies are seeking. Each integration approach, however, comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities.
Each integration approach comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities.
Secure File Transfer Protocol
Secure file transfer protocol (SFTP) is the most frequently used method to transmit data, since it is a fast and low-cost way to integrate systems. This method involves using a separate mechanism, such as Microsoft Task Scheduler, to transfer a flat file from system to system through an SFTP server.
Companies often rely on an SFTP process when they have limited IT resources, a need for quick access to general ledger information, or an outdated ERP system that does not allow alternate data transfer methods. Leveraging an SFTP, however, comes with certain challenges, including a lack of real-time data due to scheduled flat file transfers, large file sizes consuming network bandwidth, and less security than other methods.
While SFTP sites work well for simple interfaces, many companies choose to graduate to either a connector or application program interface (API).
A connector, especially an ERP connector, is a great way to achieve an expedited connection between platforms. Connectors can come in the form of API connectivity or a pre-written sequel query used to extract a flat file from the source system. In both cases, the connector is typically installed in the ERP or on a virtual machine and a profile is configured to extract the correct data points.
Given their pre-configured nature, connectors are quick to implement, but there are downsides. All connectors come with a specifications sheet detailing the requirements and parameters for the source system to communicate with a particular platform, but require an internal technical resource who understands the parameters and knows the technical configurations of the source system. Additionally, since some ERP connectors only work with certain ERP versions, a company’s current ERP may not be able to support a particular connector.
The amount of data transmitted from one system to the next may push the limits of the connector’s capabilities or the existing environment may have robust requirements that an out-of-the-box connector is unable to support. In this case, it may be best to look at leveraging an API connection.
Utilizing a public API allows systems to transmit all data elements quickly and in real time by utilizing a representative state transfer (REST) API. A public API is a more permanent solution that provides direct access to the main data source, making it the most effective but at the highest cost.
With this method, developers do not need to install additional software or libraries to take advantage of this design. Additionally, REST APIs are not constrained by a particular language, like XML, and can leverage JSON, XML, YAML, or any other format depending on a company’s needs.
The downside of leveraging this type of connection is that it is completely designed, configured, and maintained by the company. For many, this level of control makes a public API appealing. As long as the platform has an open source API, accounting and finance teams can read and write any file to and from the platform while maintaining full control.
A happy medium between a pre-built connector and a fully customized public API connection is a third-party application, such as Mulesoft or Dell Boomi. These platforms are a perfect hybrid for companies that want to leverage a pre-built connector, but also want the flexibility to create their own API without having to build out the entire process.
Third-party solutions connect the missing pieces. Certain systems may have a connector that connects directly to Dell Boomi. As long as a company can write an API to Dell Boomi, it will send that information on their behalf.
Applications like Mulesoft or Dell Boomi work with hundreds of software applications and allow users easy access by utilizing pre-built connections while granting users the freedom to build their own custom connection to virtually any software platform.