Integration technologies continue to cause customer confusion, new report finds
London — June 14, 2005 — Integration has, for many years, been high on the agenda of IT professionals. According to the European IT research and advisory organization Butler Group it is also a resource glutton, which, if left uncontrolled, will eventually consume organizations to the point where they can no longer operate effectively.
To make matters worse, "Integration Technologies" a new report published by Butler, finds that the very models being promoted to ensure less complexity, such as service-oriented architecture (SOA), enterprise service bus (ESB) and the bringing of host systems into modern operating paradigms, are creating complexities and confusion of their own.
"Organizations need to understand the advantages that integration technologies can bring to their business, and understand which technologies best match their specific needs," advised Michael Thompson, principal research analyst with Butler Group and author of the report.
Enterprises Lack Understanding of What Integration Apps Are in Use, What Function They Perform
One example of this, according to Thompson, is when the issue of host systems enters into the picture. Many organizations have formed the backbone of the transactional systems, and the thought of attempting to integrate them into a larger framework always raises concerns regarding future operability.
According to the report, even when there is a good understanding of what applications are in use, it is not always known exactly the function they really perform, as the application itself may have moved on significantly from any documentation that may exist.
Butler Group said that typical benefits of integration from a business impact perspective include the elimination of data re-entry and errors, increased operational efficiency and decreased latency through the creation and automation of services that adequately support business processes, improved supply chain performance through increased visibility, improved compliance with service-level agreements (SLAs), improved coordination across various revenue channels, improved up-sell and cross-sell opportunities through a single customer view, and reduced inventory stock-outs and improved product mix.
Examples of technical benefits in the report that have been claimed by customers of integration providers include reduction in number of interfaces required (for example, a 40 to 50 percent reduction); reduction in interface development costs (these appear to be typically 25 to 50 percent for many of the ESB-type solutions); reduction in interface maintenance costs (50 to 75 percent savings); reduction of 50 percent in costs associated with changes to customized displays; 30 percent reduction in cost of changing underlying applications, and a reduction in application instances due to removing redundant instances across different business units (33 to 50 percent savings).*
"Creating an integration strategy based on process as the primary driver will allow organizations to better understand the benefits of spending money on integration," said Thompson. "For those more forward-looking organizations, this cost element becomes subservient to the fact that the organization will be future-proofed both in terms of technology advancements and organization change."
SOA, ESB and Web Services: How All the Pieces Fit Together
The idea of a service-oriented architecture, which forms the infrastructure upon which defined, self-contained and non-reliant functional components can be stored, identified, created, deployed and consumed, is gaining ground, according to Thompson.
However, the report also shows that SOA is often perceived by organizations as simply part of implementing Web services — a natural extension to the Web service model. Butler Group commented that this is too narrow a view, and the report advises organizations to consider SOA, whether or not they intend to provide or consume Web services.
"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," said Thompson. "Applications then need to be 'deconstructed' into their component services — each of which perform a specific business function. Organizations can undertake a cautious and controlled migration to a SOA without having to put all of their eggs simultaneously in one basket. This is of key importance when it comes to cost control and monitoring the performance and return on (ROI) of a solution."
In the report, Butler Group recommends that enterprises create, or revise, a strategic plan for integration, and the definition of a software architecture based on the principles of a SOA and an ESB. It stipulates that the plan must address four elements: choice of underlying technology, service-enabling existing applications, new development work and new investments in packaged applications.
The report acknowledges that there is no "one-size-fits-all solution" when it comes to integration, and there is still a requirement to undertake some of the more mundane tasks in order to create an infrastructure that powers the whole organization. However, the newer models of integration, like SOA are not "rip and replace" models, but rather are firmly entrenched in the re-use of existing assets.
"Real-time enterprises need integration," concluded Thompson. "This means more than simply the 'right information, right time, right place, right person.' It means that processes are increasingly more important than standalone applications."