Enterprise Application Integration
What every CIO should know about today's complex technology arena:
FACT: Deregulation and competitive pressures are producing rapid consolidation in one industry after another. That increases the pressure on infrastructure of all kinds. Especially on technical systems.
FACT: Technology life cycles
are decreasing. The time it takes to learn a new technology is greater than the half-life
of what youre trying to learn.
A number of factors in todays business/technology climate add to the complexity of the integration challenge:
Enterprise Application Integration is the process of fitting hardware, software and business processes together so that the interfaces between components become seamless, information can be easily shared and systems working together can achieve synergies. Business systems are living systems, naturally integrated in the manner of social organizations. Complex and multi-textured, they are reflected in the computer systems that evolve to automate the business process.
One of the keys to handling complexity is developing fitting models. Models may employ many ingredients. Some use mathematics, some symbols. Images, statistics, persons, and prototypes, miniatures and mock-ups all can be used as models. Models help us to comprehend, to communicate and to handle complexity.
If you recognize your company in the risk factors indicating an increased need for systems integration, then you may find Integration Modeling techniques will quickly improve your situation. You can follow seven proven steps to realizing a clearer picture of your environment, your projects, or your requirements for business systems automation.
Consult internal experts and existing models, systems and information repositories to gather information about the project. This step may be structured as a series of interviews, including representatives of the business areas affected by the project or business initiative. Or it may be conducted informally in the early stages of developing a new business idea. Sometimes the best ideas emerge from the daily servicing of customer accounts where new requirements can come to the surface. Whether formal or not, this step involves gathering the relevant information and recording business options through the use of scenarios: narrative descriptions of the current state of business problems, proposed solutions, and the desired business outcome.
Once the broad picture has been described in scenarios, clarify the viewpoints of key participants. What do the owners of the view see in relation to the business problem and its proposed solution? What is their day-to-day experience of the situation? For example, assume the business problem is data quality for a financial institution. Marketing sees financial data as an indicator to set prices. Precision to within 5% accuracy is sufficient for pricing needs. Finance sees the same data as its used for regulatory reporting. A much smaller margin of error is acceptable. Line managers see the financial data as the customer sees it. Here absolutely precise data is the requirement. These three different viewpoints will set different requirements for the proposed solution. Each needs to be understood in context to be able to set project priorities.
How do the differing viewpoints affect the business scenario in question? Are there significant differences that must be addressed individually, or can one solution fit all? For instance, in an employment services firm, does each branch have a different method of reporting and invoicing time worked by contract employees? Would it make sense to standardize on one method? Are there reasons for the differences? Do the branches support different functions, where one branch handles hourly workers while another branch provides staffing which is billed on a monthly or by-project basis?
Where are the similarities? In the employment services example, every branch has clients, and every branch has workers. They share the model of providing workers to clients on a temporary basis, even if each branch provides a different type of worker.
Model templates provide a starting point for developing the integration models you need. The template you select depends on the dynamics of the business scenario you are modeling. If the scenario describes a recurring process, cyclical in nature, it will be characterized by repetition and evolution, and is best depicted with a circular model. Where the scenario involves a flow of information, work, goods, services or communications, flow charts can be used to trace the flow. A scenario based on some type of network (for example, telecommunications or transportation) is clarified by the use of a grid or web model, containing the primary components of any network: nodes and connectors.
Once you have gathered and modeled the salient characteristics of a scenario and chosen the templates reflecting the dynamics of the scenario, you have a pretty clear picture of the knowledge internal to your company. Step number five involves looking outside your company to review the state of the art on your requirements. How do others view this situation? How do others solve similar problems? Whats the benchmark for this technology in the industry today? Are there models in other industries that can be adapted to your needs? What are the best practices in use in companies similar to yours?
The output from step five is generic information, synthesized from the industry at large. To adapt these synthesized models to your company requires aligning them with your corporate identity and strategy: the policies, images, values, and operating models that set your company apart. Then the new models are elaborated in the preferred style and language of your company so that their implementation is consistent with existing norms. Practices that are inconsistent with policies or operating models are weeded out and only those that fit your company are incorporated into the new models.
These seven steps will work for small or large projects, whether localized or across-the-board projects involving massive resources. With practice and perseverance, they can be mastered and applied to improve many difficult situations.