What does it take for real integration?

The middle path to modernisation

Jan 14, 2020

In an ideal world we’d trade in our old systems for gleaming new technology stacks floating pristinely somewhere in the Cloud. Here we would have access to a library of applications, solutions and technologies to bring new functionalities in order to power the infrastructure that benefits all business departments.

Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world and there’s a lot of development work required to access technologies and allow systems to share data. On the plus side, however, everyone is in the same boat. In fact one CIO of a technology firm estimated that more than 85% of companies are operating with some form of legacy system.

Why legacy?

There are many reasons why businesses continue to run legacy applications. The cost and complexity, not to mention perceived risk, of replacing something at the heart of the tech stack can be a huge demotivating factor. With a complicated system of layers, updates and patches, even the smallest changes might snowball into large-scale problems.

Staff too might be so comfortable with what they know that they are resistant to change, or they don’t have the experience and skills to upgrade or implement new technologies.

Finally, it’s important to note that much legacy software is highly robust and extremely reliable — there’s a reason why it’s been around so long. In fact, one CIO at a major hospitality industry company said its mainframe legacy system hadn’t gone down once in 30 years except for maintenance and upgrades. Though just because it is reliable does not mean it is fit to do the job.

Migration to new platforms may also represent a power tussle, as managers fight to keep what they have built rather than exchange it all in for an alien, all singing externally developed system — especially if their jobs could be at risk.

Yet failure is the biggest blockage, have you heard about their CIO that got fired over a failed system migration?! Well it’s the biggest risk and one many executives are not willing to put their head on the line for.

All of these factors explain why legacy software is the reason behind 53% of hospitality businesses saying they are holding back on investing in new technology, but that is only holding hospitality companies back from fulfilling digital transformation and being agile in a more competitive market.

For further reading check out Israel del Rio’s article, the Marriott/Starwood “Back to the Futue” technology decision”.

Integration — the way forward

The good news is legacy technology doesn’t have to stop businesses modernising. There is a middle path between the two extremes of ditching everything or holding on to the old. Core legacy systems can be integrated with new technologies and applications in such a way that continuity of processes is achieved in a streamlined way that allows for data sharing, further integration and future proofing.

The key to successfully integrating the old with the new is judicious planning. A complete audit of the business’s tech stack should be conducted to identify which legacy components are no longer supported, no longer relevant, or too expensive to maintain. Once the elements that can be replaced have been identified, establish the optimal points for integration. Application programming interfaces (APIs) can be used to connect older software with newer technology, and cloud-based services can take much of the heavy lifting, limiting risk and increasing future adaptability.

Open APIs

In recent years the industry has welcomed the availability of Open APIs, with more leading systems making this an accessible and convenient way in which to connect new technologies. However this is often leading to a stand-off, a stalemate situation arises — for two technologies to work at optimal performance an API needs to be written between the two systems.

When dealing with Open APIs, if neither party takes the lead to write the connection, either the hospitality customer of the two systems must themselves take it under their own direction to build the connection or employ a third party to develop an adapter.

APIs can be tricky business depending on the level of complexity involved to access the required data so that both systems provide optimal benefit. How well data sets are connected between the two systems for seamless transmission will enable business to do more with the data to enhance performance. Legacy systems hardly make it easy with its inflexible code and varied databases. The role of data is paramount today, and with technologies like machine learning responding to data behaviour and giving an extra boost in how data can drive performance, leads to systems in Hospitality 4.0 needing to be accessible. The connection allows for the transmission of data sets back and forth that can work with other technologies, like machine learning to manage how the data behaves.

Off-the-shelf vs bespoke

The level of intricacy required to create an adapter depends on the complexity and sophistication of the systems that need to be connected, and how well data is organized between the connecting systems. To make the adapter project successful, developers need to be able to understand the utilisation of the tools, the types of data required, the behaviour of data, commercial benefits and industry standards.

Off-the-shelf adapters-as-a-service may allow businesses to plug’n’play immediately, however the accessibility to data sets and necessary functionality may be restricted and limit the business benefits of the integration. While bespoke, direct connect adapters are independently developed and are more expensive, they are more robust and scalable.

Opportunity of APIs

For technology providers, having direct APIs gives direct access to the market. They are capable of connecting to large existing systems in the market in order to take advantage of their customer-base. There’s also opportunities to partner with other tech providers within the complementing tech stack, allowing them to grow.

APIs allow hospitality businesses to test new technologies easily without much IT or internal disruption, allowing them to focus on commercial growth in a stable environment. It also means employees feel more supported by being able to trial new solutions and applications without needing internal development resources to build new technologies.

APIs open out the market, and Open APIs invite new solutions to be part of the market. Markets are still maturing and figuring out how to make open APIs commercially effective and viable. Furthermore modernising tends to happen in small steps rather than sweeping changes to reduce disruption and minimise fear.

In the long-term sights should be focussed on overall functionality and future proofing the business with quick and easy plug’n’play connections. Until then hospitality businesses need the hard labour of connecting two systems manually by building APIs themselves, even if they are stretched beyond capacity and skills. Unless…

Outsourcing and future success

With APIs often being a one-off event with only regular maintenance required, employing dedicated team members can be a resource best place elsewhere. This is especially prominent when IT teams are small. Integrations can be outsourced to third party technology partners who are experts at these kinds of legacy integration solutions and can provide ongoing support.

Until every business in the world has unlimited resources, there will always be a place for legacy systems. Modernisation will increasingly depend not on how many legacy systems an organisation can get rid of, but how well it can integrate them and expand their tech stack with other applications and solutions — and, for now at least, that will be the path to success.