Application Integration: What It Is and All Your Options
Swirls of vanilla and chocolate ice cream in a cone, representing application integration
What Is Application Integration and How Does It Work?
Swirls of vanilla and chocolate ice cream in a cone, representing application integration

What Is Application Integration and How Does It Work?

Apps are just part of doing business in 2022. From Hubspot to Mailchimp to Jira, it seems like every day you find a handy new tool to help your team reach their goals. All those apps are incredibly valuable. But if they’re not connected to one business ecosystem, things can get confusing — fast. If their apps don’t talk to each other, companies risk losing time, money, and energy to data silos, and inefficient processes. That’s where application integration comes in. 

Here’s what you need to know about connecting and integrating both cloud-based and on-premise apps.  

What is application integration?

Application integration is the process of connecting two or more applications so they can work together. 

That could mean facilitating the flow of data between apps, or setting up automations so that multiple apps can be used to complete a single workflow or task. 

Application integration is similar to, but fundamentally different from, data integration. Instead of pulling data from apps into one central place, this kind of integration connects apps to each other, so they can work and share data seamlessly 

For enterprise businesses, application integration often happens as tool stacks and teams grow. It’s an important part of modernizing how they do business. As part of this, many large companies are slowly moving away from their legacy on-premise systems towards cloud-based and software-as-a-service (SaaS) business tools.  

All these applications need to be integrated, or your organization will fall into a disorganized, inefficient way of working. Not only does integration let you combine apps to work more efficiently, it also breaks down data silos. That way, every app is working with up-to-date, accurate information.

The benefits of application integration

Application integration is all about working in a more efficient, streamlined, and productive way. 

Some benefits of application integration include: 

  • Automated workflows free up staff time to focus on creative and strategic tasks.
  • Reducing margin of error by cutting down on manual data entry.
  • Getting better value from your apps by making sure they’re working with as much accurate business data as possible.
  • Flexibility. Since it’s easier to fit new apps into your existing ecosystem, you can more easily try out different options, and start getting value from them more quickly.

Examples of application integration 

Enterprises working with a custom, legacy system might need to integrate multiple on-premise applications with each other, or connect them to newer cloud-based business tools like Salesforce or Google Workspace. 

Integration is also important for businesses that work entirely in the cloud; nearly all such companies will have a need to integrate different SaaS tools in order to work effectively. 

Example application integrations include: 

  • Integrating a CRM and email marketing tool, in order to centralize contacts from multiple email campaigns with leads gathered through other methods.
  • Integrating an online store and inventory system, to automatically update which SKUs are in stock.
  • Integrating a development tool with a project management platform so your software teams are more aware of upcoming projects across the company.

One of the best things about integration is just how many are available. No matter what tools you use — or what your workflow looks like — you can find an integration that works for you.

Types of application integration

While application integration is a simple concept, in practice it can get pretty complicated. Here’s a quick breakdown of the major 

Two-way sync vs. one-way integration

A two-way sync integration means that changes to data in one app will be reflected in the other. That keeps the information between both apps consistent automatically, no matter what. 

Example: When a Trello card is created, open a matching task in Asana, and keep them up to date with the same information. 

A  one-way integration, by contrast, means that updates and changes in one application trigger an update in another — but the data only flows one way. Most of the time, these integrations will only manage the creation of a new work item or the updating of a single field.

Example: When you create a meeting link in Zoom, an event is automatically created on your Google Calendar.

Point-to-point vs hub-and-spoke integration

In a point-to-point integration, apps exchange data directly with each other. Usually, this is done with custom-coded connectors, or through native integrations offered by the apps themselves. 

Building custom connectors internally can be expensive and take a while. Native integrations, on the other hand, usually offer one-way data flow and limited customizability.

For that reason, point-to-point integration is usually not scalable for larger enterprises that rely on many different apps. 

Most enterprises use hub-and-spoke integration. This approach connects all applications to a central system that connects them and handles data exchange. This central software system is a type of middleware

But while hub-and-spoke integration is more efficient, it is mostly limited to legacy, on-premise systems. 

iPaaS (integration platform as a service) 

iPaaS is a modern, cloud-based integration package of integration services offered to companies by an external vendor. While iPaaS systems themselves are cloud-based, they can integrate both SaaS tools, like a CRM, and on-premise apps, such as an ERP. 

Like hub-and-spoke, iPaaS platforms are much more efficient than direct point-to-point integrations. They are also easier to deploy and require less internal resources to maintain than a custom, enterprise hub-and-spoke integration architecture. 

Time to integrate

Application integration is about squeezing as much value out of your apps as possible while limiting the amount of boring manual work your teams need to do.

When all your apps are working together, with access to as much data as possible, everyone’s work gets better. Application integration helps us save time, make better decisions, and work more efficiently.  

And while the actual process of integration is pretty complex, there are plenty of ways to make it feel nearly effortless — like using Unito.

Saving time, working smarter, and staying connected. Isn’t that what technology’s all about?

Want a custom integration solution without the work?

Unito's application integrations are the best way to connect your tools and get data from multiple fields updated in both directions.

Find out how