Alex Djordjevic, System Integration Architect
April 21, 2018
Old MacDonald had a farm E-A-I-E-I-E-I-O. I’m sure if you’re not familiar with integration, you may think that EAI is a popular nursery rhyme. However, that’s not the case. In the business world, we take Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) very seriously. EAI is the integration of different systems and/or their system components (where these components are either functional or technical in nature). In fact, an organization uses EAI to connect its systems around the globe to support business process and decision-making. Throughout human history, people have been making decisions that determine the future based on the information on hand. Business is no different. Today’s business decisions are made based on the information available, and those decisions determine the future of an organization at a global level. Therefore, the quality, timing, completeness, and accessibility of this information is essential to make optimized decisions impacting the future success of the organization and its people. EAI can actually help us improve the odds regarding our organization’s future by providing us with better information to make optimized decisions.
When people talk about EAI, they usually refer to the underlying data within two business systems, whereas EAI is much more than that. Unfortunately, looking at two systems alone suggests point-to-point data integration, and excludes the full end-to-end business process understanding. This is why business users end up having shouting matches with the IT guys during and at the end of a project. The business users feel that their end-to-end processes are not fully automated or require manual effort to resolve and validate the data exchange between their business systems. However, business users also lack the technical understanding required to communicate robust system integration solution requirements. It is up to an integration architect to guide business stakeholders in articulating their business needs, which will culminate into a technical solution acceptable to the business. This includes all the business rules and processing requirements that support their day-to-day business activities.
The lack of success on integration projects is a widespread phenomenon with a high cost to organizations in terms of dollars, as well as lost business opportunities. This failure to succeed has put a black eye on EAI. We are all excited to deliver a fast and economical technical solution that we forget the business value we’re supposed to deliver. It’s almost like reading the corporate annual report and losing sight on what it is that we’re there to achieve. The executives have been hired and entrusted to save dollars and take advantage of business opportunities. If the integration of its systems fail to support the business, the cost to the organization can be great, not to mention the fact that some executive jobs are on the line. These costs are attributed to the inability of an organization to align its business processes and systems to a changing business environment. Thus, when an organization changes its business processes, the information being shared between its systems may not provide the appropriate level of data abstraction to support those processes (i.e. data consumed by different functional areas and levels of management). Information being sent to other target systems is now out of sync with what the business processes on the target system are expecting, or may simply be antiquated or incomplete. The cost to the business, specifically the cost of resources to make changes to the applications and systems, can be astronomical when it comes to change management, code change, application support, and so on. At the end, the cost is irrelevant if it doesn’t help the company position itself to make quality decisions and maintain competitive advantage in the market. Having good information is what makes an organization “lean & mean”, or rather efficient and effective in its operations and leadership. As for potential opportunities, the business must trust the information in its systems in order to find the opportunities. This is where an organization can empower its data analytics and business intelligence resources to feed its executives with top-notch information.
Benefits of EAI
Some areas where EAI is most beneficial:
• Systems within distinct functional areas (e.g. accounting, supply chain management, operations, etc.), where data supporting different functional views is seamlessly shared across functional areas within an end-to-end process.
• One system-of-record updates multiple systems that rely on the same information.
• Data reconciliation within the application ensures that no one system stores out-dated information. In other words, everyone is up-to-date and we can trust every system knowing that we have the latest information across the board.
• Workflow across functional areas allows people to work together, allowing data to be shared across systems supporting that workflow.
• Regulatory compliance/reporting ensuring that internal data is compliant and can be shared with external regulatory sources. • Business Intelligence and Data Analytics houses the proper data to support strategic and operational corporate decisions.
• Strong system dependencies exist between an organization and its partners, suppliers, and other external parties. Thus, internal processes co-exist with external processes.
Shortfalls of EAI
Shortfalls of an EAI implementation:
• There is no EAI framework that articulates both business and technical deliverables to fulfill project requirements. This usually includes the required delivery templates and project governance to meet business requirements.
• Management engages IT resources who lack integration skills and experience, and without proper mentorship. EAI requires strong technical integration resources with an overall understanding of all the technologies being used.
• Weak corporate sponsorship and integration implementation partners with a poor track record in EAI-specific deployment (i.e. partners who are learning on the job and trying to force fit a delivery methodology not appropriate for integration projects).
• Strong dependency on a specific technology that is “hard-wired” and not easily replaced in the future. We should have the ability to easily adopt innovative technologies while preserving the business functions being supported by EAI.
• Loss of commitment by corporate stakeholders over time. This also includes change in management and other key stakeholders who are committed to the integration application landscape.
The adoption of an EAI Integration Framework can help management integrate business processes and applications across an organization, while an industry reference model helps to define the information requirements between various business processes and/or functional areas within an industry. For example, APQC provides reference models for several industries, including energy, financial, telecommunications, manufacturing, retail, transportation, government, etc., as described in an earlier article in this blog entitled, “Don’t Reinvent the Wheel, Get Your Hands on a Business Reference Model”.
In order to be successful with EAI, you don’t need a team of highly paid consultants to create a pile of documentation that serves boardroom presentations. Furthermore, you can’t afford to contract out an EAI solution delivery without being heavily involved in every step of the way. What you do need is a clear understanding of the business and industry you are in, your organization’s place within the industry, forthcoming changes in the industry, and the intended position of your organization during and after these changes. In addition, for every technical EAI decision that you make, whether it is a software platform or hardware related, you need to be informed of EAI technology innovations and how these technologies can empower your business. Clear direction pertaining to EAI is the key to your future success.
Mr. Alex Djordjevic is a System Integration Architect with IT Architects in Calgary, Alberta. IT Architects (www.itarchitects.ca) is an information consulting firm specializing in business process optimization, system evolution planning, and the deployment of leading-edge technologies, including Enterprise Application Integration. If you require further information, Alex can be reached at email@example.com or 403-809-1576.