Ninety percent of organizations still lack an application integration strategy according to a Gartner press release earlier this year. This lack of integration strategy and related skills is resulting in “integration disorder, greater complexity and cost” according to the same Gartner press release.
Many of the problems mentioned fell in the category ‘general IT project risks’, such as scope creep, poor planning, conflicting departmental requirements, resistance to change, poor data quality, technology focus instead of business focus, and so on.
However, a number of the problems were specific to application integration projects. The eight most commonly mentioned reasons are listed below:
- Increased complexity was not recognized
Implementing applications from multiple vendors introduces additional integration complexity compared with a single vendor strategy. The expected business benefits from selecting ‘best-of-breed applications’ need to be weighed against the additional integration effort. If the decision for a hybrid system approach goes ahead, the integration effort needs to be properly planned and budgeted for. Although this may seem obvious, it is often underestimated by the users involved in the initial purchase decision.
- False assumption that the Enterprise Application Software (EAS) vendor will handle integration
Many organizations mistakenly assume that their EAS vendor (vendor of ERP, CRM or whatever enterprise application you purchased) will take care of application integration. While most EAS vendors offer APIs to get data in and out of their own solution, the customer is responsible for the integration points on the other side. In almost all cases, the EAS vendor expects all integration points to be with RESTful APIs/web services. Especially when integrating with older applications, it can be a massive tasks to make data and functionality available as RESTful APIs.
- APIs offered by the vendor are too basic
The APIs provided by the EAS vendor may work well for data access, but not for Business Process Integration (BPI) workflow scenarios. A proper BPI solution is needed when the integration requirements go beyond simple data access, especially where the actions that need to be triggered from one system to another are conditional or complex.
- No cross-platform integration tool or expertise
Integration by nature requires tools and expertise on multiple platforms. Not only to create, test and implement a solution, but also for ongoing support, problem solving and possible future customization. Make sure to select an integration tool that can be deployed across multiple platforms, including Cloud platforms. Also, staff with a variety of technical backgrounds needs to be comfortable using the tool.
- Real-time – Near real-time – Batch
No proper consideration has been given to which inter-system transactions should be processed in real-time, near real-time or batch. First of all, make sure you select an integration solution that can handle all three scenarios and that it performs well in all three with peak volumes of data. Secondly, classify your integration needs in real-time, near real-time and batch. Where real-time is not required, specify the frequency of an integration process. For example, should it run every minute, every half hour or every day.
- Processes are not fully automated
Processes that are “almost automated”, but still have a small manual step somewhere, form an increased risk for errors and bottlenecks. For example, manually moving a file from one location to another or converting a column/field to different coding or standards. Again, a good BPI solution should be able to handle data transportation and transformation, as well choreographing the related processes in all relevant systems.
- A patchwork of Integration solutions
The integration challenges that come with a mixed vendor and hybrid Cloud environment, are in many ways similar to the challenges that come with integrating with business partners. To keep costs and required skills under control, select a business process integration solution that can handle a variety of integration scenarios, such as EDI, XML, CSV, web service, Pop3, FTP, and so on.
- No proper error handling processes
Inevitably at some point something will go wrong. The data may not match the schema defined for the transaction/message, a connection error may occur, an encryption/decryption key may fail, and so on. Error handling will be needed, such as sending an alert to an operator, triggering an error correction procedure, setting a restart point, logging the event in an error report, and more. A proper BPI solution will include an operational dashboard and handle these administrative tasks.
Application, Data and Business Process Integration solutions have become easier to use and more affordable than the traditional heavy weight Enterprise Integration Bus (ESB) solutions. However, organizations still need to plan and get skilled for the additional challenges that come the postmodern application mix and match environment.
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