A Beginner’s Guide: What does good integration look like in 2023?

Hearing a lot about integration and wondering what it all means for your firm? Don’t panic. Take a look at what Paul Albone, CTO at tmgroup has to say about what different types of integration mean, why APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are better over traditional integration, and how it can all help the property industry work more efficiently and collaboratively.

Often when selling a software service, the question will get raised ‘but can you integrate with our current systems?’.  For what appears to be such a straightforward question, there exists a plethora of valid answers.  This is generally not an IT problem but one in which both sides need a better understanding of what is meant by ‘integration’ and what is trying to be achieved.

Is sending an email with a reference, address and client details from one system to another integration?  Well many people think so, but this has several shortcomings, the most important one being that the sender doesn’t really know that it has been received and even if it has, can’t confirm that the information contained within it was understood or processed.  The aim of integration in whatever form is to try to reduce the amount of re-keying of information from one system to another, which not only takes up time but is also prone to data entry errors. There are far better ways of achieving this than an email.

I guess, as a bit of an IT purist, my view of integration is where both sides of the integration, the systems, understand what each other needs, are able to hold a ‘conversation’ and perform a ‘handshake’ that each part of the conversation has been successfully received and understood. The trick to these types of integrations is to break big paragraphs of text down into smaller sentences and make sure that the receiving party understands each one before carrying on with the conversation (the handshake) – but more importantly gets the opportunity to interrupt if they need clarification.  This type of integration leads to being able to implement higher levels of automation which enables increased levels of business activity being supported with fewer people – or at least those people can be used to have those detailed conversations with clients that the technology can’t support – leading to an all-round better client experience.

So what difference does an API make?

APIs have been around forever – well at least in my 30 years’ experience of the IT industry.  But of course over that time the implementation of them has changed. Consider an API as a gateway or window into somebody else’s software application that allows you to use it from your own. Simply put, APIs are a way to join two systems together.  It saves you having to develop it yourself, extends your own service and hopefully, if done well, provides your users with a seamless user experience.  The trick to a good API is to keep it as simple as possible.  Create touch points that are well defined – and make sure the Error Handling is robust and consistent. Sounds easy?

In today’s business environment, we are all striving for business efficiencies and that often means looking at our processes, where we spend most of our time, or the highly repetitive tasks.

Whole systems and user experiences can be created by flexing APIs – and in order for this to be achieved you have to follow a principle of API First when setting out the architecture of your solutions.  It’s a mindset and way of thinking I guess.

Unfortunately, we as an industry appear to find it all too difficult to connect our systems together and even when robust integration frameworks exist, there always seems to be barriers to adoption be that lack of technical resource or commercial conflicts. I’d like to see all legal and property systems operate to a standard set of APIs with a common data standard. By all accounts however, I’m going to need legislation as a minimum in order to achieve this ideal.

Data integration for digitised upfront material information

The property market is crying out for change, as our recent ‘Back to the Future’ industry report revealed. It highlighted a particular need for digitalisation and automation of the property transaction. The report’s research findings also showed a strong desire for better sharing of data through integration and upfront Information. This has been driven by the growing need for a simpler, more streamlined, transparent, and secure process to help reduce duplication and enquiries, while making transactions faster and smoother.

At tmgroup, upfront material information is now digitised with a Sellers Information Pack, available for estate agents through the mio sales management hub. It contains a Property Information Form, which applies the Home Buying and Selling Group’s BASPI dataset as the ‘one source of truth’ for upfront property information. It pulls through Land Registry and Local Authority data to reduce duplication within the transaction process.

Once complete, this information can be exchanged with authorised stakeholders such as conveyancers to get the seller’s legal preparations underway while a buyer is being secured, as well as provide material facts disclosure to potential buyers to inform their purchase decisions.  By applying this qualified data schema, the right questions can be asked and the right data can be digitally collected and exchanged, using reliable data provenance and a common data standard. The Sellers Information Pack is a great example of how data integration can raise the bar for best practice standards within the industry and improve the customer experience.

If you want to find out a bit more about the tm APIs then take a look here – www.tmgroup.technology.