How to Explain Application Integration to Your Mother-in-Law

by Sam Morris on January 29, 2014

Ever had trouble explaining an abstract computing concept to someone completely removed from the modern corporate workplace?

To non-techies, even seemingly basic subjects like application integration can elicit blank stares, bewildered squints, and shoulder shrugs of defeat. Thankfully, there are ways to break such ideas down into easy-to-digest primers. Here’s how to explain application integration at your next family gathering.

1. Introduce Application A. 

Before you start throwing around technical vocabulary, determine whether your protégé even knows what business applications are. If your mother-in-law has never worked in a corporate setting, she may not.

Regardless, there’s a good chance she’s used email, so you can start there. Using email to introduce the concept of application integration works for two reasons:

  1. Nearly everyone knows what email is even if they’ve never used it for business purposes.
  2. Email integrates nicely with several other apps (like customer relationship management, or CRM, solutions, which we’ll focus on shortly), the usefulness of which is relatively simple to explain.

Going forward, we’ll think of email as Application A. Assigning the variable will help you break down the concept of application integration more effectively.

2. Identify a problem with Application A. 

Does everyone “get” email? Good. Now you’re going to describe a common problem businesses have with email as a communication tool.

Explain that businesspeople use email every day for correspondence but to make the most of a business relationship, you need more than just email. Sometimes you also want to be able to quickly access other contact information and notes as well as comprehensive communication logs for individual contacts. To build on that relationship, you might want to know more personal information like when a sales prospect’s birthday is or the names of his kids. Email is not an efficient way to track that information.

Make sure the person to whom you’re speaking understands the limitations of email.

Note: We’ve chosen this problem as a lead-in to why businesses use CRM applications, but you could just as easily choose another problem email poses and explain how integration with another application mitigates the issue.

3. Introduce Application B. 

In an effort to resolve the problem posed by using Application A alone, you’ll explain, businesses invest in CRM applications (Application B) that let them view contact communication history at a glance. This helps us do all kinds of lovely things like know whether the contacts are solid business leads, figure out when we last emailed them, or remember what was covered in previous correspondence. CRM eliminates the limitations of email’s message taxonomy. Thus, it solves a problem for businesspeople.

Where does application integration enter the picture? It’s how email and CRM “talk” to one another. In order for CRM to group communication history by contact, it has to access the correspondence that already exists in email. This point is crucial – it’s the “meat” of what application integration is – and you’re about to clarify it using a simple analogy:

4. Build a bridge between Application A and Application B. 

If you managed to bring your technology non-initiate up to speed on email and CRM, congratulations. Now you just have to talk about bridges, and this universal concept should be an easy next step in the conversation for any audience.

Explain that just as people invest in bridges to connect landmasses, businesses invest in application integration to connect applications. Integration is like a bridge because it closes the gaps that exist between Applications A and B, resulting in efficiency gains and more useful software for everyone.

To return to our example, integrating email and CRM helps us enjoy all the good things about email (the ability to send and receive messages) and all the good things about CRM (organizing correspondence history by contact). It’s a way to make the applications work together – and work better.

Don’t like the email/CRM example? Choose your own! 

We think the above example works because email is a universal communication tool that even admittedly non-technical people will be familiar with. CRM, while far less universal, is nonetheless an application whose purpose isn’t too difficult to grasp.

What matters more than the applications you use in your examples is that you use examples in the first place. It’s too easy to say, “Oh, application integration just means sharing data and processes to increase the value of enterprise software.” But without a concrete example, your mother-in-law isn’t going to know what you’re talking about.

So choose an example – the simpler the better – and use the bridge analogy. People will finally understand you, and they may develop a better appreciation for what you do.

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