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Issue of August 2004 

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'We need to examine how IT manages things'

If not done properly, enterprise IT integration can be quite more of a hassle than an asset. Peter Williams, Head - Solutions Development Group, Datacraft Asia details the challenges and trends of this crucial aspect of enterprise IT implementation. by Anil Patrick R

What are the biggest challenges that organizations face when it comes to enterprise IT integration?

When it comes to integration, one of the biggest challenges that companies have is in managing different vendors and technologies. There are two challenges that organizations usually face in this.

As an IT organization one way to improve the cost-effectiveness of integration is to actually reduce the number of vendors that you are dealing with. There are two ways to deal with this issue. One way is to have an integrator on top of vendors to perform the integration. Doing the integration in-house is the next choice. This means that the organization's IT team becomes the system integrator. With this approach, the organization needs to build the systems themselves in conjunction with vendors. Extract this approach to one more level and the IT team's job is to direct technologies towards the greater portion of the business. This means letting someone else do the integration. This seems to be the preferred means for most organizations to get the maximum ROI.

The second challenge that enterprises face in integration is prioritizing. When you look at the number of opportunities businesses have to improve their business, the biggest challenge is which one to do first. Is it more important to go in for short term strategies with greater ROI or for long term strategic programs to drive the organization forward?

How can the IT team resolve these challenges?

To answer this question, we need to examine how IT manages things. If IT is trying to drive the initiative, it can be the wrong approach. The truth is that they don't really understand all the business strategies or all the market conditions. So they are more likely to make wrong decisions in the implementation. If the business has a strategy and IT is moving according to the strategy, that is the best way.

These days, organizations expect IT people to be both, technology and business experts. For example, in a bank the IT team is expected to be an expert in areas like core banking systems, finance, treasury and marketing. It is actually possible to find IT people in banks who are have more expertise in the treasury than anyone else in organization. This is the right way to approach integration issues.

What is the latest strategic trend that you see happening in enterprise IT integration?

The biggest strategic trend is going to be the workforce mobilization. Initially, workforce mobilization used to be considered as being all about technologies like wireless, 802.11, and hotspots. I think these people are missing the point.

The reasons why enterprises postpone making their workforces mobile are different. Organizations are concerned about security and loss of control over resources. This is clearly a big issue. For example, if I put my current office staff in the field, the advantages are that my customer contacts and service levels increase. However, once I do that, I potentially lose control over how those people are going to behave. It is a common concern across organizations when they consider workforce mobilization.

More important than this is the access that employees have to corporate data. It is possible for them to access databases at any time and place on the field. There is high probability of this being misused. Questions arise like, what if the employee is giving away secrets? The third concern area is collaboration. My staff may be away, but I need to collaborate with them on a scale similar to the one at the workplace. That level of interaction with my employees is required no matter where they are situated across the globe.

This trend of expectations from employee mobilization has just started off. Once these three parameters are in place, employee mobilization is going to happen in a big manner. This is where the system integrators have to provide the applications that can do these. They will also have to give active user training to ensure that the applications are utilized in the most optimal manner for the business. This also means that the consulting space will be there in an active manner.

What are the other trends that have recently observed on the integration front?

The other trend that I see emerging is componentization of applications. Earlier, applications like ERP and CRM were huge application suites. These applications had long implementation timeframes and integrating them called for huge expertise levels. Today's applications are much more modular in nature due to changing requirements from businesses.

All the enterprise vendors have now realized that the enterprise wants quick ROIs with the shortest implementation time. This has led to vendors offering solutions that can be implemented module-wise. With these solutions, the buyer needs to invest only according to his needs. It ensures the least implementation time along with faster investment returns.

This trend is most visible in verticals like banking, logistics, and online vendors who need to bring out new products and services faster than their competitors. IT is not a strategic advantage anymore because everyone has access to the same technology. Now, the challenge is if it is possible to maintain business strategy over the long term.

What are the challenges that new technologies like Web services bring to integrators?

The challenges that Web services bring are the same as that with XML--that of standardization. This serious issue is all about how a business process can be defined in a way that everyone can interoperate.

Complications usually arise when it comes to putting together a suite of transactions enabling the business. Electronic Data Integration (EDI) is used to tide over this. The industry has done very well over the past few years in terms of getting the defined documents. For example, it is now possible to find out what the weather report is in Bangalore using a Web service. Now, the trouble is that there are five weather applications out there in five different cities. These applications come with slightly different XML definitions that can cause issues. Although we have the technology to get around this, the concern is still about why each definition should be different. This is why standardization is the biggest issue during integration.

Anil R Patrick can be reached at

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