I’d like to propose a framework for evaluating the depth of an integration between an app and a cloud platform as follows:
This model considers integrations on four levels, starting at the bottom with integrating data and working our way up to governing the collection of apps being integrated:
Data: passing fields, records, or other packets of information between systems. This is the most common kind of integration between cloud services. But what each system does with the data is often undefined at this level.
Workflow: standardizing or automating the flow of data and activity between people and systems. The simplest pattern: an event in one system triggers a sequence of predetermined actions across others.
UI/UX: embedding elements of the integrated app — or the entire app itself — in the user interface/user experience of the platform. This gives users of the platform visibility into integrated apps and the ability to interact with them without disruptively switching between different systems and interfaces.
Governance: establishing and enforcing rules and standards across all approved apps in the platform’s ecosystem. This makes it easier and safer for users to adopt and manage apps built by different vendors with greater consistency and control.
As we go up the y-axis of the above diagram, we advance to higher levels of cognition in the integration. Exchanging data is a relatively rote, mechanical process. Workflow incorporates dynamic behaviors. User experience is how we comprehend and interact with the combined products. Governance is how the collection of apps that we’ve integrated are managed.
Here’s a non-technical metaphor to distinguish what’s happening at these different levels:
data → nouns
workflow → verbs
UI/UX → language
governance → grammar
Data are nouns, the fundamental objects we work with, and workflows are verbs, the actions we take on or with those objects.
UI/UX is a common language for communicating with those nouns and verbs. Do integrated apps speak the same language, like two collaborators both talking in English? Or is it a Tower of Babel, where different systems present things very differently — even when they’re talking about the same underlying objects and actions?
Governance is the grammar of the language. Anyone can string words together in a language, but are they combined together as proper sentences that make sense? Good grammar assures us of a certain level of coherence to avoid gobbledygook. So does good governance of apps on a platform.
There’s a wide range of depth and elegance in how different platforms implement these four layers. Shallow integrations give you Dr. Seuss. Deep integrations give you Shakespeare.
What do you think about this? What would you change, or what would you add? Give me feedback - let me know in the comments.