Technology and data integration

An API approach to a cloud based data and tech integration platform

Technology and data integration

An API approach to a cloud based data and tech integration platform

Context

Fenix Outdoor is an internationally active group focused on products for nature and outdoor life. The company is listed on Nasdaq OMX, Stockholm and Large Cap. Their goal is to be a global player in the development and sale of equipment and clothing for an active outdoor life. The company sells Fjallraven and Tierra brand products such as backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, and outdoor clothing, as well as Primus camp stoves and lanterns. Fenix Outdoor also owns and operates the retail chains Naturkompaniet and Skandinavisk Hoyfjellsutstyr. The company is active in many countries in Northern Europe.

 

Challenge

As the company is a collection of brands, they have disparate application stacks. Their ultimate goal is to move towards more standardised processes, more consistent data and rationalised technology across the brands. This will enable a better customer experience, improve speed to market of new offerings and functionality, and improve business insight while achieving economies of scale.

Historically when new functionality or applications were implemented, it was either based on brand specific requirements or needed point-to-point integration to launch. Although this addressed immediate needs, it continued to entrench the diversity of technology and data; and risked moving the business further away from its intended target state.

 

Solution

There are a number of paradigms in the market that exist for technology integration, so Fenix needed to come up with an approach that would meet their specific context and goals. Riverflex’s team of integration stepped in to support Fennix in carrying out this mission.

Based on education and advice from Riverflex, Fenix has embarked upon a new integration approach based on 4 key concepts:

 

An API led approach

By transitioning to an API-based approach to integration, Fenix is able to connect business processes, services, content and data to colleagues, customers and developers, in an easy and secure way. It will provide common definitions of data across the business and a reusable set of services rather than messy point-to-point integration.

Some of the benefits that APIs will provide include:

  • Modularity that is designed around the business to enable speed and reusability
  • Loose coupling to break the dependency within and between systems
  • Ease of scalability for increases or peaks in traffic
  • Control and security to manage access, data visibility and volumes of calls
  • The ability to externalise processes and data to customers and partners

 

A transition to micro-services

Building APIs in the right way enables a transition to a micro-service approach where a common set of business building blocks is exposed to various front office systems and devices. This provides a consistent set of processes and consistent view of data and is fundamentally reusable.

              Example business building blocks

 

Abstraction of back-end systems

Following a layered approach to integration architecture enables abstraction of system specifics. This can help when there are diverse backend systems with different data definitions or processes, or where backend systems are slow to change or don’t meet current non-functional requirements such as security, availability or performance.

 

Transition to a cloud based integration platform

The use of a cloud-based integration platform brings all the well known benefits of the cloud such as quick speed to market, ease of scaling, reduced management and administrative overhead, robustness, reliability and security. In the integration space, there is a significant amount of innovation by cloud providers (for instance with real-time messaging, streaming of data and serverless compute) by being part of a cloud ecosystem such as AWS or Azure. This provides immediate access to these advances.

Riverflex supported Fenix with the assessment of technology options and the decision was made to use Microsoft Azure’s integration services.

An example of some of the specific services used

Azure API Management: This is being used to front all of the APIs being created to provide control and administrative capabilities such as security, throttling of traffic, caching of data and version control of APIs.

Azure Logic Apps: This enables the building of workflows, processes and transformation of data as well as providing specific system connectors out of the box. This helps to transition from a system view to a process or experience view to provide valuable business services.

SQL Database: A good old SQL database but supercharged by the cloud is still useful to store lookup and reference data for mapping fields and information between systems

DevOps: This is used to host code repositories and to build and release pipelines. For Fenix the Continuous Integration / Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipeline has been automated.

 

How Riverflex partnered with Fenix

The Riverflex team was engaged to define and prove this overall approach and to start to upskill the Fenix team on these new API-based integration patterns and modern cloud-based integration technologies. Once this direction was set, the initial goal was to prove that a standard set of order APIs could be built to abstract three different ERP back-end applications. This Minimum Viable Product (MVP) would be used to validate the direction and inform the roadmap for integration going forward.

Overall Riverflex was responsible for:

  • Defining the overall direction for integration going forward
  • Working with Fenix to select the integration technologies  that meet their business needs
  • Defining a solution architecture that would prove the concept quickly but also is ready to scale
  • Defining a canonical data model to provide consistency across disparate back-end data models
  • Designing the APIs for the initial use case but to be ready for more
  • Setting up of a new cloud-based integration platform
  • Building and testing the solution
  • Automating the CI/CD pipeline

 

Impact

This initial MVP was all carried out within six weeks from a standing start to launch. This demonstrates the pace that can be achieved by following the appropriate lean and agile delivery approach, by using cloud-based SaaS solutions, and by using experts who are experienced in doing this before.

The speed and quality of the outcome have verified the integration approach that Fenix will take going forward, the technology stack that will be used as well as the delivery methodology they will follow.

The business now has a way of quickly interfacing orders across multiple disparate back-end systems which have quickly unlocked the ability to build new customer-facing products once across multiple brands in a seamless fashion.

The Riverflex team worked hand-in-hand with the Fenix team to deliver this initiative together which started to upskill the Fenix team on an API-led integration approach, but also expedited the delivery as business knowledge was embedded within the team. Working in co-sourced teams with our customers is one of our preferred approaches for these reasons.

On the back of the speed and success of this initial MVP, the integration platform is now being scaled and Riverflex continues to support Fenix on this journey.

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