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MuleSoft Pins The Tail On Integrated API Automation

Mules get a hard time. But this is only because they are good at what they do. As the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse (the other way around is a hinny), a mule is greatly valued because it is able to shoulder more work than a small horse, yet it has the calm endurance of a donkey.

Like its equine namesake, MuleSoft aims to be good at what it does with an air of unruffled stamina. Created to take the donkey or mule factor out of cloud-centric software integration, Mulesoft is known for its Anypoint Platform with unified functions that centralize around integration, API management and automation.

Salesforce family values

Salesforce completed its acquisition of MuleSoft back in May 2018, at which point MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform became part of (and essentially formed) the foundation of Salesforce’s integration solution, which today exists as a set of services designed to enable all enterprises to ‘surface’ their data (i.e. access, view, analyse, integrate and more) regardless of where it resides. The platform’s promise is an ability to deliver intelligent and connected customer experiences across all channels and touchpoints

From the start, MuleSoft has pledged to continue to build toward its application network vision using the Anypoint Platform, connecting any application, data source and device – whether it touches Salesforce or not.

With the practically-post-pandemic (possibly, if you wish) period of IT industry conferences now moving to physical-virtual hybrid status or fully-blown In Real Life (IRL) events in the flesh, MuleSoft used its MuleSoft Connect 2022 event programme to host gatherings running concurrently in New York, London, Paris and Sydney.

Senior vice president of product at MuleSoft Stephen Hsu has reflected on the past two and a half years of disruption. He explains that his firm is dedicated to showcasing methods by which IT teams can do more with less, grow at scale and create connected experiences using modern automation and integration technology.

Those ‘connected experiences’ surface at the User Interface (UI) level, obviously; but initially they stem from the ability of applications and data services to interconnect, which (in the cloud-connected world of always-on) computing, they very typically do via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and their ability to ‘glue’ apps and parts of apps together.

MuleSoft’s research carried out in collaboration with Deloitte Digital suggests that the average enterprise organization uses 900+ individual applications and 98% of businesses currently use public (i.e. cloud-based or open source, or both) or private (in-house programmed) APIs.

So while there’s a massive amount of back-office connectivity happening, if the networking technologies responsible for creating the resulting framework and fabric of services presented to the user are not engineered carefully, then there are no so-called seamless experiences for users – and, make no mistake ‘seamless experiences’ is what MuleSoft likes to see printed on its promo t-shirts, or some variant thereof. Actually, the MuleSoft Connect slogan is ‘automate anything, empower everyone’… but you get the point.

APIs everywhere

MuleSoft reminds us APIs come in many forms, flavours and functional formulations. A typical enterprise organisation with some x-hundred number of employees (or more) might today be working to build, compose, manage and maintain hundreds of APIs spanning different applications, departments, business units and technology environments.

This is MuleSoft’s bread and butter.

It’s what the company calls a universal API management capability, a set of tools designed to allow organisations to pursue the dream of composable business i.e. the ability to choose and integrate best-of-breed software solutions and create new services using any API.

According to a MuleSoft product statement, the universal API management capabilities here include Anypoint Flex Gateway, API Manager, API Experience Hub, API Designer with event-driven capabilities and API Governance — all of which are built directly on the MuleSoft Anypoint Platform, which handles integration, API management and automation.

The rise of the citizen integrator

Faced with the question, who uses MuleSoft – and who uses software integration and API connectivity technologies? The answer (up until now at least) has traditionally been software developers, systems architects and some of the C-suite team with a solid background in software engineering.

As with so many technologies today, MuleSoft is looking to broaden that user base outwards to other IT Decision Makers (ITDMs), Line of Business (LoB) leaders and plain old run-of-the-mill users.

This of course is the democratization or technology integration tools and the creation of what we could call citizen integrators. Like citizen developers, citizen journalists and citizen anything-types, there is often a backlash from those people who have trained in dedicated professions when laypersons join the workflow, so MuleSoft will have to work hard (and show that the common governance approach it advocates and insists upon really does work) to convince us that these tools work and don’t cause more harm than good.

The company now positions MuleSoft as a unified solution for automation, integration, and APIs to easily automate any workflow so any technical or non-technical team can adapt to constant change and business complexity. The solution now includes no-code capabilities to automate repetitive manual tasks using bots with MuleSoft RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and to quickly connect data from any system, such as Slack, Stripe and Workday, with MuleSoft Composer.

An expanded user universe

“As an integral part of Salesforce Customer 360, MuleSoft helps companies integrate complex systems and data, while expanding the universe of people who can use automation across any system or workflow,” said Shaun Clowes, chief product officer, MuleSoft. “The result is empowered business and IT users, from sales and customer service to HR and finance, who can do more with less – quickly creating workflows and integrations that drive efficient growth and faster time-to-value.”

The new capabilities on show here are fully integrated into Salesforce Flow, a suite of automation technologies across its Customer 360 product line designed to help save time, increase productivity and deliver better experiences. Business teams like sales can close deals more efficiently and service agents can quickly sync customer records to improve customer service interactions.

“When we think about where integration for automation is today, it has evolved. Integration used to be the sole preserve of developers and so [with no disrespect intended] logically, many tasks fell into the ‘long tail’ of the total IT development program inside any given organization,” said MuleSoft CEO Brent Hayward.

Today, we’re at a point where initiatives and technologies such as workflow and process mining are helping to drive automation – and the mechanism that enables automation is integration. Hayward admits that although there may not be a deep awareness of what automation means among non-technical businesspeople, that is changing, in no small part because it is implicitly and simply understood to be a way to complete more tasks and get things done.

“In a world where ‘outcomes-based’ principles are championed, automation is understood to be the outcome of successful integration,” stated MuleSoft CEO Hayward, succinctly and definitively.

He explains that first and foremost, automation is a workforce issue. Previously, businesspeople viewed the IT function as the department that just says no. When people wanted to get a piece of data out of NetSuite, SAP or Sage (for example) to be able to surface it in Salesforce or some other platform, the answer was just no – that task sat in the long tail and possibly never ever happened.

Zero-based IT budgeting

“Looking to the immediate future, we need to take the cost out of automation so it becomes a zero-based budgeting item,” explained Haywood, in obvious reference to how the MuleSoft platform can provide exactly that route to integration-for-automation efficiency. This is the point at which IT is no longer regarded as a cost center and instead becomes a business-driver profit center as automations save time and money to create funds that can be reinvested back into any given organization.

The MuleSoft CEO and his team call this automation built within a common governance landscape, which essentially represents a company-wide approach to IT designed to avoid the creation of brittle automations that fail as a result of poor integration.

“MuleSoft is the ‘integration engine’ behind every Salesforce Cluod,” said Hayward. “You can’t automate without integration – and where enterprises do attempt to build automation efficiencies without a core integration competency, then those automations tend to be these brittle, non-collaborative and likely to ultimately fail.”

Just what is a brittle automation? It’s one that may crash, fail and burn simply because a user interface field has changed on a forms-based application that an RPA bot was tasked with encoding.

But what about automation systems that are too old for APIs? MuleSoft RPA will work here to capture information from legacy systems that are only accessible via a user interface to capture information and then securely share that information across the functions that users will need. Users get a complete set of tools so that every application can become a building block to creating more innovation across more workflows.

“We’re not the first to build RPA technologies, but we do know that organizations are struggling with their automation initiatives – and we can see customer examples where automations are driving bots to potentially share information to sources that should not have access, this is why MuleSoft places so much emphasis on securing automations in the most productive environments achievable,” said Hayward.

Automate now, or later?

As the road to enterprise automation is today more clearly defined, routed and now successfully navigated, we get to a point where organizations now have to ask themselves whether they are embracing automation now, or at some point in the future. MuleSoft calls the point of successful automation the point of ‘digital enaction’ i.e. this is when and where it is put in place to work effectively. This is not just a back-office play, everyone from wealth managers to healthcare workers can streamline systems and start to network at a new level of connectivity.

There are wider truths on show here and will always be winners and losers in any market, any technology space and any world – so, whether or not an organization is able to adopt automation can now represent the defining line between business success or failure.

The takeaway gravitational pull

The enterprise IT themes playing out with MuleSoft here have a certain gravitational pull of their own i.e. they ultimately coalesce around a concentric notion of dispersed technologies offering choice, maximized functionality and a secured route to scale and growth – but, at the same time – they also bring together and integrate those disaggregated API-connected applications, dataflows and devices into one centralized and unified managed platform… all with an ability to democratize the very process of integration in and of itself.

Now that we know a little more about the donkey work that goes on connecting our new increasingly cloud-native world, perhaps we can learn to respect the mule a little more.