Standing On The Platform Of Giants
Date: Thursday , February 27, 2003
An approach to Integration that looks at the needs of the entire enterprise.
IN TODAY’S MARKET THERE ARE A MYRIAD OF new products, technologies and innovations to make business more productive, to empower remote workers and to better align the activities of various departments with the overall business goals of the enterprise. Whether it is a new wireless device, Web application or even an in-house solution designed to address a need unique to an organization, IT managers know the tools they require and understand the value new technologies can yield.
However, as organizations rightfully demand better value from their IT investments, IT managers often hesitate to roll-out more productive technologies until they are can confidently answer one question: how are you going to make them work with what you already have? Indeed, this question is not restricted to new technologies. In many cases companies already have IT assets, devices and applications that underserve the enterprise as developers work furiously to build them a proper home in the existing IT infrastructure.
The Integration Nightmare
Applications and devices that cannot communicate across a broader infrastructure continue to be a chief obstacle companies face as they, like most of us, look for ways to do more with less. The most frequent approach is for individual departments to make do with some sort of patchwork solution that connects various IT assets within that department. Yet this approach usually ends up with the larger enterprises resembling a sprawling, spotty checkerboard of isolated IT silos that operate independently with costly redundancy. Data valuable to the entire enterprise stays locked in one business unit, unused and underutilized, erecting a barrier to business expansion. The key to unleashing the productive power of these technologies throughout the enterprise can be rolled-up into a deceptively simple word: integration.
Part of the challenge here is that there are a perplexing number of definitions for integration, with an equally perplexing number of products attached to each definition. This leaves IT managers to find the right integration point solution for each integration problem, creating a mirror of the problem they seek to solve. For IT teams working on the problem, this approach leads to one of the most ironic, and counter-productive tasks in IT: how do we integrate all the integration solutions?
A Better Way
We know that if your final task is to integrate the integration, then there is something very wrong with your initial integration strategy. The future of integration is not a number of smaller integration solutions. It’s a much more holistic approach less concerned with making two applications or devices talk to each other than with creating one system that achieves the frictionless flow of information across the entire enterprise. Some analysts have described this as a services-oriented architecture.
The solution also needs to be scalable and seamlessly integrate new applications and systems to the overall IT infrastructure without having to change or alter the IT infrastructure itself. If you are implementing a new packaged application, an existing application or an in-house, custom application, the need to re-configure an IT infrastructure time-and-time again is a huge expense sink. It also puts IT organizations at odds with business units and internal departments that seek to change and evolve their business processes.
After all, it’s a company’s unique business processes—the ability to do things faster, more effectively and more efficiently—that distinguishes the company from its competitors in the market. If a company’s IT infrastructure can’t support those evolving business processes, if it’s not scalable and adaptable to the changing needs of its business, then technology becomes a business hindrance rather than a business enabler.
The trick is to create an infrastructure connected via a common, standards-based platform, one that can extend across the enterprise and create a shared medium upon which information supporting business processes can travel. The goal here is not to have business process fit IT. The real goal is to have IT enhance existing business processes and adapt to their rapid evolution. This sort of platform-based, enterprise wide integration enables organizations to develop, deploy, and integrate applications and business processes within and between enterprises. It provides a unified solution that combines application server, application integration, business process management, and B2B integration functionality.
Put another way, the objective is to have an IT infrastructure that can fit the business, not restrict it. A platform approach addresses each “complexity barrier,” which is each place where an application or a silo of information runs up against another and is unable to communicate. Rather than building a unique bridge to cross over that complexity barrier—a proposition that translates into time, cost, and risk for any project—a platform approach to integration creates a common, pervasive system that each element of the total IT infrastructure can plug into in order to communicate and freely share information with any other element. The result is an approach that fundamentally eliminates unnecessary complexity, shortens timeframes and helps guarantee that IT projects deliver on promised ROI.
Another benefit of a platform approach is the ability to create and deploy more applications faster, in real-time and across multiple channels. Enterprises can use the system’s broad range of integrated development tools, leverage existing skills, and take advantage of built-in protocols, conventions, and network facilities to develop and deploy new applications and Web services rapidly. This breaks down the artificial barrier between packaged applications and custom-made internally developed applications. Integration of applications, processes, and people is an absolute necessity for business success, but the high cost and difficulty of integration associated with most of today’s integration products is not. Applying such a unified approach to integration eliminates the need for extensive custom programming, multiple products requiring one-off integration, or multiple interfaces that separate and obscure data from managers and customers alike.
Point-To-Point Dead End
Although there are other approaches to solving the integration conundrum, most address the integration between one or two disparate applications or systems individually. These approaches tend to use non-standard technology responsible for vendor lock-in and rigid homogeneous IT environments. An example of this approach would be traditional EAI solutions. Once such an integration solution is in-place, it is very difficult to bring in other applications and devices to build on and expand the small island of integration created via EAI. Scaling up to the enterprise level, for example, is often an impossible and draining task.
Some enterprises think that the built-in connectors or adapters that come with packaged applications solve the problem. As this technology is proprietary, connecting the connectors on the enterprise level quickly becomes a bewildering maze of complexity. Since application vendors do not always keep abreast of changes to new products that support underlying infrastructure, adapters and connectors frequently fail to work efficiently or even adapt quickly.
Then there is the army of specialist consultants. It’s less a technological approach to integration than a forced one. Throwing wave after wave of consultants at the problem, the thinking goes, will surely result in an integrated infrastructure. The problem is that consultants tend to be specialized and poorly suited to enterprise-wide integration. As business processes change, even a little, one needs to bring back the consultants for another quick fix. This is hugely expensive and wasteful. As consultants tend to favor specific products, there is little hope of using their services to build an adaptable, efficient and best-of-breed infrastructure.
The Evolution of Integration
Rather than facing the on-going challenges that are intrinsic to using EAI, adapters and consultants to integrate the IT infrastructure, many companies are now choosing the unified approach to integration. The immediate ROI imperative that rules current IT spending and the pressing needs of IT infrastructure to enhance, not choke, business processes are leading more and more enterprises to choose such a unified solution.
Chet Kapoor is vice president and general manager of BEA Systems’ Integration Group. Kapoor is responsible for defining and implementing BEA’s enterprise integration strategy, as well as defining and bringing to market BEA’s broad set of cross-functional programs and products in the $6 billion software integration market. Kapoor holds a B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science from Arizona State University.