Strategies for IT integration
Dr Wing Lam takes a look at the IT integration options
available to enterprises
Dr Wing Lam
Over the years, many large organisations have built up a diverse
portfolio of IT systems that include packaged applications (such as SAP R/3,
Siebel and Peoplesoft), legacy systems (often based on older mainframe technology),
and customised systems and database management systems (such as Oracle and MS
SQL Server). With rapid technology innovation, such IT portfolios often end
up becoming a melting-pot of different technologies, platforms and architectures.
New initiatives such as e-business, customer relationship
management (CRM) and supply-chain management (to name a few) all share an important
characteristicthey rely on the integration of IT systems. In the case
of e-business, for example, Web sites must be integrated with back-end IT systems,
and in the case of CRM, customer information must be integrated with a variety
of other IT systems. Notably, the integration of IT systems is just as relevant
to public sector organisations as it is to commercial onesthe realisation
of e-governance, for example, requires integration of IT systems used by the
Unfortunately, the melting-pot IT portfolio does not easily
lend itself to the integration of IT systems. The two common barriers are technology
incompatibility and the fact that certain IT systems (particularly older ones)
were not originally designed to be integrated with, in the first place. CIOs
and CTOs are therefore faced with a new challenge of developing a strategy for
IT integration within the organisation. Importantly, a strategy for IT integration
must be long-term and be able to ride over the inevitable changes in the technology
Four Routes To Take
Research suggests that there are four main strategies for IT integrationconsolidation,
homogenisation, communication and orchestration.
Consolidation involves merging of IT systems similar to the
way organisations merge to leverage on greater levels of efficiency. Where an
IT portfolio has IT systems which overlap in functionality or provide closely-coupled
functionality, consolidation provides a means of removing redundancy. The result?
Leaner IT and lesser need to maintain different IT systems.
Homogenisation involves replacing IT systems with an integrated suite of IT
solutions typically provided by a single vendor. ERP solutions are a prime example
of a homogenisation strategy, where an organisation can purchase a core ERP
solution and then select the modules (e.g. distribution, personnel, marketing,
sales) it requires to run its business. One drawback with this strategy is that
an organisation needs to change its business processes to fit the IT solution
rather than the other way around.
Communication involves ensuring that individual IT systems
are able to inter-operate with other IT systems. This means that IT systems
are built in such a way that they expose their functionality through platform-independent,
open standards such as Web Services or Enterprise Java Beans. While this can
be achieved with newer IT systems, older legacy IT systems are more problematic
and may need to be substantially re-engineered.
Orchestration involves the use of an orchestration engine to manage the interaction
between individual IT systems. The individual IT systems are hooked up to the
orchestration engine which then serves as a broker for transferring messages
between the IT systems. Such an approach is supported by the orchestration tools
provided by vendors such as TIBCO, SeeBeyond and WebMethods.
Making The Right Decision
The choice over which IT integration strategy to use depends on several factors,
including the size and diversity of the organisations IT portfolio, its
current and future integration needs, the fluidity of its business processes,
and the level of IT maturity within the organisation. Most important for CIOs
and CTOs however is that they are able to align the IT integration strategy
with the organisations business strategy, and this in turn should ensure
that they receive a high level of top-level management support.
The author is Director, MISM Programme, and Associate Professor,
Universitas 21 Global