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The dangers of taking your eye off integration...

Poor alignment of project deliverables and milestones is an outcome of integration lagging behind

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Integration in IT is a perennial problem; you will never be rid of it - so why has it fallen out of favour?  Big Data, Mobile, eCommerce, Cloud - after all of this you have still got integration to deal with!

If you the take even more of the ‘buzz stuff’ away - outsourcing, insourcing, BYOD - it almost doesn’t matter.  Integration is the key thing - the thing that will keep you safe from change.

Here’s an example:
A large FMCG managed to get away with ‘bad’ technology because it had great architecture.  It had a mixed IT estate: Oracle, SAP, Java and a really complex message standard in EDI (redundant space and not flexible) and when it had acquired all of this technology it took a step back - what have we done?!

Let’s face it, a plethora of IT is commonplace in organisations and there are times when you need to re-layer / decouple and do it quick! If you have solid integration then it makes requirements like this possible because the IT estate has been architected well in the big sense with the concept of services, technology layers and decoupled data.  

When the FMCG wanted to switch to a new provider for third party logistics they did it in two days not three to six months, which can quite often be the case if the integration isn’t right.  The fact that development effort was down from 50 to 60 days to 2 or 3 was really an ancillary benefit: the true benefit was having the confidence to switch providers quickly and so delivering a much faster time to (business) value.

Common challenges when implementing new technologies / IT projects and how integration can help mitigate them:

  1. Poor alignment of project deliverables and milestones is an outcome of integration lagging behind.  To combat this you need to be dynamic in your software development approach to integration, in between each point, and have the time of day of any change to an application process recorded to an overall schedule. 

  2. Integration is a mix of application deployment and software development tools examples such as WebSphere, Tibco  and WebMethods have the basic building blocks for integration, however to make integration work one still needs custom development.  To make best use of this mix you need really good patterns and standards of integration to be able to make all components work well.

  3. There is always a trade off between architectural re-use and project delivery.  Planning and realising re-use typically takes more time, therefore be pragmatic enough to focus on today’s problem but be savy enough not to close off extension and enhancements for future re-use.  Design and build discrete chunks of functionality so that you can separate out business rules, technical procedure and operations giving you flexibility when you need to change them.

  4. End to end process definition needs cross-functional teams.  There is often a dominant application that stores redundant data in any application chain.  By understanding the whole process and solution for the entire end-to-end set of business need, you can deliver simpler, cleaner quicker interfaces.

  5. Ownership of EI work-streams can often be confused with no single person owning integration. You need an integration owner who is responsible for the whole process through every transactional spot.

  6. The support model needs to reflect the end-to-end process and include the integration layer. If there is no correlation between what came in and what went out you will not be supporting the business transactions.  Orders, receipts and trades can get lost in the process steps between applications involved in that business process.  Integration helps you make sure what comes in gets processed at every step.

Integration is the key IT enabler for the business process.  It helps manage and protect against issues with data traversing organisational and system boundaries.  By being flexible and pragmatic in integration design and delivery you avoid long and costly ‘re-integration’ programmes and provide the right amount of functional headroom to support future change.

Integration touches and connects all areas of the business, its customers, suppliers and partners.  Has it risen a couple of places on your priorities list?

Posted by Jason Hill, partner, Glue Reply

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