You probably use several -- maybe dozens -- of business applications on a daily basis, no matter which department you’re sitting at.
That's because there is no single app or one platform that takes care of all your business needs, no matter how comprehensive that platform is. So you employ specialized tools for different business functions, and this multitude of applications forms your company's technology ecosystem.
This is the backbone of your business operations. Everything you do, from your code to your business expenses and customer database, sits inside your apps, which means that making sure you’re getting the most out of them is vital to your organization's success. So how can you ensure that your technology ecosystem is the best it can be?
What is a technology ecosystem?
The term “technology ecosystem” can mean multiple things. If you Google it, you’ll probably come across a variety of definitions: it can describe a tech scene in a physical location, like London or San Francisco. Or, in the context of this article, a technology ecosystem is the collection of tech solutions that a certain company uses to run its business, and how these solutions connect with each other. This is the definition we’ll be working with here.
The reason we call it an ecosystem — as opposed to just "collection of apps" or "app stack", for example — is because the term "ecosystem" describes not only what tools you’re using, but also how they interact with one another. The term "ecosystem" was first used in the field of ecology to describe a community of living organisms, factors and elements — such as plants, animals, soil, climate, etc. — and how every one of these elements are linked together.
For example, let's say you run an online pet supplies store. You sell things like pet food, treats, toys, beds, accessories, cat litter, dog harnesses, etc. You likely need an ecommerce tool to run your business, as well as a payment gateway to process customer payments, an accounting tool to keep track of your business finances, an email marketing app to send out newsletters, a CRM tool as a database for your customer data … and the list goes on. These tools are all part of your company’s technology ecosystem.
How to Build the Best Software Ecosystem for your Business
The first step is to curate the apps you already have. Identify blockages, disconnects and information silos that might be getting in the way of your current processes. Get rid of tools that aren't working for you and replace them with more suitable apps. Software review websites like G2 Crowd and Capterra can help you with this, as they gather customer feedback on all the top business apps.
Next, identify processes that could be improved by implementing a new app, and then find the best option for you according to your business size, industry and characteristics. Make sure your new apps can connect to your existing tools, either natively or through third-party integration software.
If you plan on scaling up your business, make sure that your tools are flexible enough to cater to your needs as you grow, not just in the present. Picking applications that can scale with you will save you the headache of migrating to yet another set of tools further down the road.
Here are a few indicators that a particular tool or application will be able to scale with you as your company grows:
You can have a free trial of the tool to test out all of its features before you subscribe.
There are testimonials or customer stories backing up scalability.
The vendor offers a good starter plan with affordable pricing.
There are packages that can suit small businesses as well as larger ones, with pricing and features fitting the needs of your organization.
The app has more features gated behind extra fees, which you can unlock once you reach the next stage of growth in your business.
Having the right tools is an excellent starting point to create the best technology ecosystem for your business, but it doesn’t end there. Remember: in order for an ecosystem to be fully functional, every element in it needs to be connected. That’s why integrating your software ecosystem is just as important as having the right tools.
How to Connect your Tech Ecosystem
Circling back to the example above, let's say you’ve chosen all the best apps to run your online pet supplies store, and you’re happy with the tools in your software ecosystem. A lot of these apps can already talk to each other natively via in-app integrations: it's likely that your ecommerce application already offers an integration with several payment gateways, for example.
But what if you need more?
For a lot of companies, making sure that their tools are properly integrated is a big challenge. Most of their applications are not really connected, resulting in isolated bits of information.
That’s why you need integration software to bridge the gaps between your tools and make sure you're working with a fully functional software ecosystem, where your tools play nicely together and talk to each other in real time.
If the notion of a fully integrated ecosystem sounds daunting to you, don’t worry -- it's simpler than it sounds. Integration refers to the process of combining two (or more) pieces of software so that they’re working in tandem, and this can be achieved in a few different ways. In order to integrate your applications, you can use:
Native (or In-App) Integrations
These are integrations offered by your software vendor, like an integration between an ecommerce platform and a payment gateway. These may already be included in your subscription. Native integrations often serve the most common use cases, so they will likely cover the typical workflows users expect to have between apps -- however, they may not cover all of the integration needs for your business in particular.
If the apps you're using have open APIs, you can have your team build custom integrations in-house. This custom integration will be tailor-made for your business needs, but they're also typically very costly and time-consuming to build. Additionally, building custom integrations for all your unique needs isn’t a feasible option for businesses that don’t have employees with the necessary expertise to do this (building and maintaining software integrations is no piece of cake!)
Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) are third-party, cloud-based solutions that specialize in bridging the gaps between your business tools. This category includes apps like PieSync, which focuses on two-way, real-time syncs to integrate your customer data; and Zapier, which specializes in automating workflows between your apps based on trigger-action principles. Most iPaaS solutions offer extensive customization options, so you can tweak your connections until they’re doing exactly what you need them to do.
Your business needs are what matter most
The best apps and integration for you won't necessarily be the most popular, expensive or comprehensive ones. Make sure to adjust your tech ecosystem until it fits you just right, and it will help you exceed your goals and boost your performance. With the right apps for you and the right integrations between them, you'll be in the best position to run your business as smoothly as possible.
Originally published Apr 20, 2020 7:52:00 AM, updated April 20 2020