James Wooster, COO, Glue42 and Victor Fetter, CIO and Managing Director, LPL Financial
In recent years the use of software has become a critical enabler for digital transformation programs – particularly within the financial services industry. Today, all tier-1 banks, global trading firms and the largest hedge funds have purchased off-the-shelf platforms to manage the processes that take place on their corporate desktop environments and those of the business partners.
Should we provide a link to the N&S report – or perhaps our introductory guide to Interop? Or something else? We’ve got so many docs now!
The convergence of four global trends have had a profound impact on the technology used to manage these processes:
Automation of desktop workflows for exploratory processes;
Creation of enterprise application stores;
Embedding of integration hubs within pre-packaged software;
Emergence of open-source desktop integration solutions.
CIOs need to be aware of the recent market developments and how Desktop Integration Platform (DIP) can resolve critical business problems not remedied through other technologies. The chances are that even if enterprises do not choose their own DIP then their dominant ISVs will make that choice for them.
The remainder of this article will explore these trends and provide actionable tasks for further research.
During the early 2020s, the forced relocation of office workers to remote/home locations has undoubtedly given those with a DIP an advantage. A modern Platform provides the ability to host disparate applications in a single composite frame (aka Workspaces) and hence simplify user journeys. Additionally, data context (e.g., watchlists, symbols, clients, orders etc) can be shared between different applications while at the same time ensuring that specific application windows are visible at the relevant point in the process. A single Workspace can therefore provide genuine support for those who need to manage complex, multi-application, exploratory processes (e.g., trading, research, compliance) on a single screen. Furthermore, their ability to maximize machine resources (e.g., CPU, memory etc.) through dynamic application hibernation means that ‘under-spec’ PCs can still provide an effective working environment.
As the forced relocation requirements subside, organizations will continue to leverage the Workspace concept, designing these for specific business processes and tasks. In turn, development teams will begin to adopt a micro-application/micro-frontend approach to application design and deployment – allowing the DIP to orchestrate these into a coherent whole. This is a theme touched upon by Gartner in their vision for Pre-packaged Business Components (PBCs).
CIOs should note that this coupling of logically related applications into Workspace is a reshaping of the user journey – and not simply a case of automating keystrokes. If the latter was required, then Robotic Process Automation would be well suited to simulate user behavior to avoid repetitive sequences of actions. DIPs on the other hand are designed to allow knowledge workers the flexibility to explore business data without following a tightly scripted and inflexible path.
Enterprise Application Stores
The number of SaaS-based applications is increasing every year. According to Blissfully’s 2020 SaaS report, a large-scale enterprise will have, on average, 280 applications in use across their desktop environments. While some organizations have managed to switch off the old systems that they replace this is not always possible or practicable. The consequence is that the desktop environment is becoming increasingly overloaded. Locating the correct application, dealing with sign-on and permission requirements and achieving synchronization of data context between different applications (from different vendors) is non-trivial.
Organizations are therefore seeking to develop their own solutions for the discovery, launch and integration of these systems – an Enterprise Application Store. Thankfully, much of this has been developed by the DIP vendors who use industry standards (e.g. FDC3) to help bring these systems together without hard-wiring or tight-coupling. As these stores become commonplace, organizations will extend them to become stores for predefined Workspaces (see above). This means that pre-defined sets of applications can be instantiated directly from the store to support specific business processes. Ultimately, the end-users will become less interested in singular ‘applications’ and instead use Workspaces in which the boundaries between these applications are blurred and data is seamlessly shared. This is a sensible evolution of the desktop environment as the notion of an application is only relevant to their developers and software vendors.
Application Vendor Integration Hubs
A dominant trend in the last year has been the willingness of software vendors to embrace pre-packaged desktop integration platforms within their own product portfolio. There are three drivers:
1. Rapidly integrate products from different acquisitions and/or tech stacks;
2. Componentize their applications to accelerate application modernization initiatives;
3. Allow their products to be quickly integrated to those already owned by their client.
Scenario (3) is gaining momentum as vendors appreciate that they cannot ‘own’ the entire desktop and that revenue stickiness is best assured through integration – rather than domination. This reflects a maturation of the application vendor space as they recognize that gaining market share is easier when you can be subsumed into an existing client workflow rather than needing to rebuild it from scratch.
Those software vendors that are more advanced in their thinking, will use the DIP approach to generate new sources of revenue. For example, some are offering white-labelled integration platform products with pre-canned integrations to specific 3rd-party systems that they expect their clients to already have. This helps to embed their own products more seamlessly within the client workflows as well as more deeply within the client’s IT strategy.
Some vendors in the DIP space have launched open-source implementations of their platforms. This is a classic tactic to allow the technology to be more widely adopted. For some firms these open-source DIPs offer a complete solution for web application integration – with no need to acquire license. Undoubtedly, this has helped DIPs to go mainstream – but it also represents a genuine effort to democratize the desktop allowing enterprises, SMEs, ISVs and even citizen developers to build their own solutions without financial barriers.
Thankfully, organizations do not need to choose either opensource or enterprise software – they can have both. CIOs should review the available options to see if open-source platforms can be used for simpler desktop scenarios (e.g., web-only applications or programmatic business processes) while the enterprise products are used to deal with more complex desktops and legacy systems. Mixing and matching, particularly where the same implementation can be used in either environment, will minimize risk and reduce costs
The DIP marketplace has gone through a fundamental shift in the last few years. The old concepts of building proprietary browsers to integrate web (only) application have been replaced with fully fledged client-side brokers and UI orchestrators. Today, a single Platform can deal with web, native and legacy systems and provide a foundational layer upon which future applications can be built. CIOs will therefore need to engage their architecture teams to align digital transformation, application modernization and integration strategies together. They will also need to undertake a review of existing UI design standards to ensure that common application services (e.g., search) are factored out to avoid duplication when placed into the same Workspace.
Despite the need for these considerations, the upside for CIOs is that they will drive optimization of desktop processes while at the same time avoiding costly rewrites of existing application assets.