AJS South Africa

Stand-Alone Software, Integrated Solutions and APIs

It’s all in a name…

In the fledgling stages of any business, solving problems in the quickest, most cost effective way possible often takes precedence over what is best in the long run. And while this is not always the right decision, is completely understandable. The thing is, over time, this leads to one of the biggest pitfalls for any growing business – using multiple standalone business applications for varying departmental functions in an ad hoc manner.

It’s like having one plug with multiple adapters in a room. Eventually it not only looks like a mess but is – in a very real way – a fire disaster waiting to happen.

Standalone software

Ordinarily, businesses will install the software that they need the most before getting to all the other fun stuff, like accounting software – in order to manage their bookkeeping and ensure that money starts rolling in – the very point of doing business in the first place. Invariably in a mission to acquire more clients, firms will go on to install standalone case management systems, along with separate systems for reporting and document management. Often resulting in the different systems being addressed with disparate software that doesn’t speak to one other. At least not in the same language.

You see, what usually happens is that proper planning of an integrated business management software system takes a back seat to short-term revenue acceleration goals. Consequently, various applications are installed at different points in time in various functional areas, resulting in business process inefficiencies and software integration challenges.

The result – a growing firm quickly becomes entangled within a complex application landscape. Not ideal at all.

So, the questions invariably are – how did these problems arise in the first place, and how can they be avoided? Do you purchase individual software for each workflow process, or do you purchase an all-inclusive software package that contains all you need and more?

Well, there are arguments for both.

Why you should not get standalone software

Businesses that evolve their systems over time often find themselves with poorly planned architecture that handles short-term tactical needs sub-optimally while holding the firm back from scaling up efficiently over the long term. This tangled web of siloed practice management software systems, is often referred to as a “software hairball” – it inhibits flexibility, productivity, and ultimately slows down the firm’s ability to grow, creating an unstable, and ineffective tangle of integrations, processes and systems.

Firms often forget that with their ultimate growth, the importance of system integration grows with it. It’s common practice for more and more software programmes to be added on to various operations, each doing its own thing and each offering its own unique service. But unfortunately, system integration is often inadvertently overlooked – new programmes don’t always play nicely together. And as you add more programmes, it becomes harder to integrate them into your current workflows. Without system integration, you lose efficiency, productivity and opportunity. All those technologies you implemented to save time can lead to more manual work as you try to connect uncooperative touch points.

Why you should get standalone software

In choosing standalone software, a fledgling business has several options to implement at the front and back-office systems and where needed. Dedicated standalone software applications are exclusively designed to address a specific and single aspect of business operations, such as accounting/billing, reporting, workflow management, case management, client relationship management (CRM) as well as document automation. Each application is therefore dedicated to just one area of your business, so it delivers focused and highly efficient outcomes as well as detailed reports about that segment of your practice.

A variety of specific functions and specific software applications allow you to manipulate the data to obtain the information you are looking for. Because these programmes focus on a specific department, it’s easy to find the data you need without having to sift through information from other areas or struggle with reports that don’t tell you exactly what you need to know.

From accounting to CRM to document automation and beyond, applications can be implemented in a piecemeal, staged process or in a process that considers how these various systems will interact with each other and what level of integration they require.

And these standalone applications do their jobs very well.

So, it stands to reason that during busy times, an employee will want a focused system that will provide exactly what they are looking for. Especially when it comes to reporting. After all, if you know exactly what you require for your practice, why not go ahead and purchase just that – A specific programme instead of having all of these “add on” applications and ad hoc products that you are unlikely to use? Under these conditions, it makes sense to get exactly what you need.

But is this the most efficient way to design your software landscape?

What about integrated software applications?

Integrated software “suites” or “bundles” are collections of software especially created to work on closely related programmes. All programmes in an integrated package are accessed via a common launching pad i.e. the data for all the departments within your practice is all stored in one programme. The different integrated aspects, add-ons and plugins of the programme are all designed to work together seamlessly, so it is easy to generate reports and comparisons that encompass the entire workings of your organisation. The data in the reports is automatically generated in a way that is easy to understand and gives a full overview of the state of the business at a particular point in time or over a specified period. Employees from various departments can access information from other departments without the need for complicated conversions and data manipulation. And that will, inevitably, improve your overall effectiveness and efficiency. Two key aspects of a successful practice.

The main drawback of using an integrated practice management solution is that the reporting and functionality in each area of the software doesn’t go into as much detail as with a standalone software programme. However, it’s equally important to note that the functions and reporting features offered in integrated software can meet every requirement of your practice, with no added cost for the additional products.

And APIs?

According to Mulesoft, An API is –

the acronym for application programming interface — a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. APIs are an accessible way to extract and share data within and across organisations.

APIs are all around us. We use them daily. The most common being “rideshare” apps like Uber. In fact, and according to Tray.io whenever you use an app on your phone or computer or log onto Twitter or Facebook, you’re interacting with several different APIs behind the scenes. Nearly all businesses that use any kind of modern technology use APIs at some level to retrieve data or interact with a database for customers to use.

Or, as IBM puts it –

An API is a set of rules or protocols that enables software applications to communicate with each other to exchange data, features and functionality. APIs simplify and accelerate application and software development by allowing developers to integrate data, services and capabilities from other applications, instead of developing them from scratch.

Modern APIs adhere to specific standards (typically HTTP and REST), which enable APIs to be developer-friendly, easily accessible, and understood in broad terms, which means that they are treated more like products than like codes. They are designed for consumption for specific audiences (e.g. mobile developers) and are documented and versioned in a way that enables users to have clear expectations of their maintenance and lifecycle.

Because APIs are more standardised, they can be monitored and managed for both performance and scale. And, most importantly, they have a much stronger discipline for security and governance. The way this works in practice is that – going back to Uber – your phone’s data is never fully exposed to the server and the server is never fully exposed to your phone. Instead, each communicates with small packets of data – sharing only what is necessary.

And this has been a massive enabler for digital transformation for companies, where it has helped companies digitise, connect, and innovate across their products and services.

How do APIs work?

Most web APIs sit between the application and the web server. The user initiates an API call that tells the application to do something, then the application will use an API to ask the web server to do something. The API is the middleman between the application and the web server, and the API call is the request. And every time you use software to communicate with other software or online web servers, you’re using APIs to request the information you need.

It’s important to note that while web APIs are the most common, APIs aren’t limited to the web. There are APIs for virtually every machine or system that expects to interact with other machines or systems. Like two standalone products.

   Source – Tray.io

We think the key with these terms is flexibility. Is understanding what you need and applying it to your business – in a way that serves you in the long term. This is often easier done in hindsight once your business is well and truly off the ground. With this, we are always happy to offer our guidance and support. 

We are happy to look at developing integrations on a case/merit basis on behalf of our clients’ interests. To find out how to incorporate a new tool into your existing accounting and practice management suite, or how to get started with legal tech,  feel free to get in touch with AJS – we have the right combination of systems, resources and business partnerships to assist you with incorporating supportive legal technology into your practice. Effortlessly. 

AJS is always here to help you, wherever and whenever possible!

(Sources used and to whom we owe thanks: tray.ioIBMMulesoftBlue Bridge One)

– Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS

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