Integration Still Leaves Some Users Confused
IT professionals have led the drive toward integrated data networks for some time, but the attendant focus on technology over information access sometimes leaves users in the dark, according to "Integration Technologies: A Technology Evaluation and Comparison Report" by British technology research firm and Datamonitor subsidiary Butler Group. The results of the study indicate that service-oriented architecture (SOA) should be viewed as a way to help create a more responsive and proactive organization, and that the rising enterprise service bus (ESB) model will itself evolve from a means of achieving SOA into an element of a larger integration solution.
"The typical organization is now extremely complex, with dozens of different applications, databases, and processes all trying to interoperate at once," writes Michael Thompson, principal research analyst for Butler and author of the report. "Although the ideal scenario would be that all these different pieces would come together and act as a single, well-oiled machine, in reality the picture is very different--the pieces of the puzzle are more likely to interfere with each other, causing system failures and crashes, than they are to mesh together." In short, when companies don't have a precise understanding of the integration tools they're using and their intended functions, the attempt to simplify operations only leads to further complexity.
"A lot of companies have already bought tons of integration technology and don't know how to use what they have," says Chris Selland, principal analyst for Covington Associates. "Many of the technologies until very recently have been proprietary, which locks companies into a particular integration method. And each new TLA [three-letter acronym] creates more confusion."
The study indicates that the key question to ask before starting to restructure information systems is, "Why integrate?" To answer this process leaders have to consider a number of business drivers, including globalization, compliance with legal requirements, as well as the obvious goals of improving workflow and achieving a holistic view of the customer or partner.
"Integration is a very important strategy for many enterprises. The problem many companies still have is gaining a single view of the customer," says Sheryl Kingstone, program manager and industry analyst for Yankee Group. "While CRM software can help, too much customer data is located outside the CRM system. As a result, integration technologies play a critical role not only in the messaging (data movement), but also in achieving a single source for the truth."
Another crucial point is to have a complete picture of data and functional assets before laying out an integration roadmap. This knowledge will help an SOA implementation remain focused on making data more accessible and processes more intuitive, rather than become a buzzword-driven process, according to the report. "The idea of a Service Oriented Architecture is gaining ground, and is reaching the heights of hyperbole at the moment," the report says. "What this means from a business perspective is that each application needs to be understood from the point of view of what services it provides to the organization. Applications then need to be deconstructed into their component services--each of which performs a specific business function." Within an overall SOA framework, services like address lookup and customer credit checks can then be re-assembled to be much more flexible, future-proofing the organization, according to the report.
For future proofing, the Butler report urges forward-looking consideration of new integration technologies and reminds integrators that new doesn't necessarily mean better. The emerging ESB integration model is taking the place of several older technologies, the report notes, including messaging, content-based routing, connectivity to standards such as Web services and J2EE, and support for distributed work environments. As such, it will be part of future, larger integration solutions. However, Butler cautions that "simply because there are new architectural models available, this does and should not preclude the use of existing technologies." Because ESB vendors differ on whether ESB is a packaged good or an architectural concept, it may be worthwhile to watch and see how the technology develops before committing. Organizations must think in terms of reuse, rather than a "rip-and-replace mentality" with its attendant costs and disruption.
"Saying to your key people, 'We must be integrated' is a lot like saying 'We must be profitable.' Obviously that's a true statement, but the devil is in the details," Selland says. "You can't continue to throw the problem to IT without thinking about why you want to integrate, and what problems you want to solve by doing so."
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