The key to integration success – a Q&A with Iain Falconer
16th June 2021
Author Iain Falconer
We catch up with Iain Falconer, Senior Business Manager and head of Davanti’s integration capability (aka the MacGyver of the connected experience), to talk about his role, the evolution of integration and the difference modern integration tools and practices can make for New Zealand organisations.
Tell us about your role and what it entails.
I head up the integration capability for Davanti. My role has evolved from a consulting integration architect to growing and supporting the integration team, capability and knowledge across Davanti. This helps all our consultants have meaningful conversations with our customers to understand and help solve their integration challenges, and to bring in more specialist support when the time is right.
My Davanti journey started six years ago, over a coffee with Justin Hamilton, when he suggested coming on board to help Davanti’s customers successfully integrate their technologies with Salesforce. This usually involved working with a number of third parties to help manage the risks and challenges associated with integration. Over that time, we’ve had a real opportunity to grow our integration capability and establish more ownership of the integration delivery outcomes – and with Salesforce’s recent acquisition of Mulesoft, it has given us the ability to focus more on bringing the benefits of this technology to our customers.
There are currently nine in our specialist Integration team (and we’re growing fast), supported by a wider team of more than 120 people across our Salesforce and digital capability, all with a broad capability and understanding of integration.
Tell us a bit about your background, your mission in life, what gets you out of bed in the morning…
I’ve always loved playing with technology, and have enjoyed keeping up with technology evolution and fashion over the years.
I grew up in Glasgow and moved to London to start my career working for Oracle in 1992. I moved to New Zealand in 1995 looking for a better life balance, returned to the UK for a few years and have been back in New Zealand since 2005. This is definitely my home now, although I have enjoyed travelling back to UK over the years.
Immediately prior to joining Davanti, I was the product owner for a small New Zealand data and video analytics company where I looked after the reporting product, which involved the integration of data from multiple sources for analysis, reporting and business interactions.
I recognised the movement towards cloud computing and was fascinated by the approach and success of Salesforce, so Davanti provided a great opportunity to align with this.
What do you love most about your role?
I love the challenges that technology brings – solving problems, working with a great team, both within Davanti and across our customers. And having some fun fixing things!
I love being able to create a team with the right structure in place, providing everyone opportunities to learn and grow within a supportive network of peers.
I love the diversity and variety in my role – working with multiple customers, different challenges, different people. I have amazing autonomy and flexibility and love being able to architect solutions for customers and also support my team from a development point of view. I don’t want to put people in a box; they should have a variety of opportunities to develop skills across the spectrum of roles we see in modern IT projects, I love the term T-shaped, where people may have their core strength, but can also contribute in other areas.
Looking to the year ahead, what’s the one thing you’re thinking about and focusing on that will help Davanti’s customers get closer to their customers in 2021?
My focus is all about helping our customers to demystify integration, simplifying and solving their challenges, making things faster and easier and helping them deliver more.
I also want to continue to improve the ways of working and grow the knowledge base to improve on-boarding and growth of the resource pool, for Davanti and for our customers. Good skills are in short supply, and we need to help develop those skills.
In your conversations with customers right now, what’s the one thing they’re thinking about and focusing on this year when it comes to transforming their customer experience?
As technology increasingly becomes an enabler for business outcomes in this digital age, we’re seeing a desire from our customers to access and act on their data and to interact with their customers, in real time. In the Salesforce world, where you have a central CRM but often your customer data can reside in other systems, it’s all about making sure our customers have a consistent, single view of quality data – in real time (or as close to it as possible).
In my conversations with customers, my role is to help them work through a roadmap to achieve business outcomes, identifying what technology is fit for purpose for them and what needs refreshing. They might be trying unsuccessfully to leverage old technology for new purposes or looking at entirely new technology – but it is always about the journey and how to get there within good investment choices and minimal regrettable spend. You don’t always have to throw away what you’ve got.
What does modern integration look like these days, and what difference does it make for New Zealand organisations?
Over the years, integration has gone from being very IT and tech-centric to much more business outcome focused – technology is, after all, the thing that enables business outcomes.
In my time in the industry, we’ve also seen the technology itself evolve significantly, along with a movement away from monolithic applications, increasing the need for integration to maintain data consistency and replicate across application boundaries.
For us, effective integration is all about agile delivery, building understanding as a project evolves, rather than trying to get all your I’s dotted and T’s crossed as you would with a waterfall approach. When you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to design something right upfront, when you know the least about it; it’s better to take a slice of something and then peel back the onion as you go, which helps to grow understanding and minimise “regrettable spend”.
Integration tools like Mulesoft help to speed up the delivery and manage dependencies as well as offering an extensive knowledge base so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel each time.
It’s also about making sure you bring in the right people at the right time to help identify risks and challenges early. Doing this helps speeds up delivery and allows you to fail fast and identify problems sooner rather than later. There’s nothing worse than realising late in the piece that you have got fundamental problems that could have been identified earlier!
The integration aspect of any technology project is often viewed as the biggest challenge, because each application in its own right might be doing what it needs to do, but the integration still proves to be difficult. I encourage tackling these challenges as early as possible to help de-risk the overall outcome – and making sure that the right people are working collaboratively to share and understand the risks is critical to success.
And what does success look like?
From an integration points of view, the key thing is to first get a good understanding of the right pattern or approach and then validate it by doing a doing a thin slice, connecting the dots to validate the approach and confirm assumptions. This also forces individuals and teams to collaborate early and work through ways of working.
Don’t worry too much about the actual detailed data points early on – this should be easily extensible as it’s likely to change anyway. Instead, it’s often things like the security and connectivity of the integration that can create critical issues and slow things down.
Again, it’s all about making sure the right people are connected and talking to each other. Too often you see examples where you have people sitting in different teams throwing things over the fence and hoping they will work (and of course they don’t!).
When you’re not busy helping our clients get closer to their customers, how do you spend your time (e.g. leisure activities)?
My kids are a bit older now, which means I have more time, which I like to spend in the great outdoors – camping, trail running and mountain biking with my partner and friends. I’m an introvert at heart and often at the end of the week I like to have some time to myself to decompress, and being outdoors helps me do this. I like to be able to maintain a balance between working hard and getting outdoors, and I tend to surround myself with like-minded people and good friends who enjoy outdoor pursuits and an energetic and active lifestyle. I am currently training for an Ultra Marathon and plans to complete part of the Te Araroa Trail.