Remember when self-service checkout aisles first showed up at grocery stores? It was pretty neat to be able to skip the long lines and take matters into your own hands—especially when buying just a couple of items.
Then came the larger shopping trips. Suddenly, you found yourself painstakingly weighing produce, endlessly flipping boxes around in search of barcodes to scan, manually entering codes from the bulk bin aisle, and calling over the customer center manager when the baked beans didn’t ring up as advertised—all while ensuring the potato chips weren’t crushed by the cantaloupe. At that point, it probably occurred to you that you would have been much better off in the capable hands of the cashier. In other words, the convenience of self-service checkout didn’t scale well.
The same can be said for most self-service models, including self-service integration models: as scope and complexity increase, efficiency decreases.
In the case of self-service integration where easy’ integration tools are provided but the actual integrations are implemented by the customer, this inverse relationship between scope/complexity and efficiency is dramatic. Lightweight self-service integrations such as connecting one application instance to another may provide a high return on investment, but as soon as complexity or scope is added by way of cross-functional systems, large or varied amounts of data, privacy standards, data governance, and so on, efficiency declines at a steep rate.
Next, I’ve highlighted five unintended, yet inevitable pitfalls that arise when enterprises implement self-service integration models within complex, ever-evolving, mission-critical integration environments.
Pitfall 1: Compliance sabotage
Compliance with government and industry security standards such as PCI DSS, HIPAA or SOC 2 is an enterprise-wide affair. Stringent rules and processes must be followed to ensure there are no cracks in the armor. However, in a self-service integration environment, the many business stakeholders that have been enabled to configure integrations outside the realm of IT may not be aware of the multi-tentacled dimensions of compliance. Or, if they are, they may find themselves limited by specific compliance to their vendors’ tools that aren’t broad enough to provide end-to-end compliance. As a result, compliance is often sabotaged (knowingly or unknowingly) and the enterprise finds itself at risk of exposure.
Pitfall 2: Say goodbye to data governance
Overlapping the issue of compliance is data governance, which is also an enterprise-wide affair. Companies typically have significant policies in place to establish what can—and can’t—be done with data. These policies exist to ensure that newly opened ports don’t breach the firewall or that siloed databases don’t mysteriously pop up like unexplained crop circles. But as individuals across business units roll up their sleeves to integrate applications and systems, good data governance, which is exceedingly difficult to accomplish even in the best of circumstances, goes out the window.
Pitfall 3: Downward evolution
When integrations are configured, they represent a moment in time. The business objectives of the day are achieved using the technologies of the day, but who is evolving the integrations as the volume, variety, and velocity of data increases? Continued investment in technology and related innovations are usually not part of self-service integration environments. As a result, ongoing maintenance is neglected and implemented integrations are left to devolve as new application versions, technologies, and the ever-increasing challenges of big data go unaddressed.
Pitfall 4: One way or another, you’re gonna pay’
One of the major selling points of self-service integration is the freeing up of costly IT resources. But when enterprises are faced with complex, mission-critical integrations that require more than simple configurations, this premise is negated by the need for competent and specialized talent. To feed the self-service model, this talent must come from within the enterprise, forcing companies to do exactly what they thought they were avoiding: invest in expensive and ever-harder-to-come-by experienced IT personnel.
Pitfall 5: Difficult baton handoff
This final pitfall is really a doubling down of the other pitfalls. As compliance or governance is overrun, or integrations devolve due to lack of maintenance, or projects reach a critical mass that requires more expertise than business units can offer, IT is left holding the bag. In addition to being an unwelcome increase in workload, the handoff of a project from a line of business to IT is a very difficult one. IT likely has no insight into the project’s genesis or objectives which creates a steep learning curve. And a cross-departmental handoff, even when strong collaboration is present, creates fuzziness around issues of ownership, responsibility, budget delegation, and other project management fundamentals.
Avoiding the Traps
So how to avoid these five pitfalls? Embrace a model that takes a holistic approach to integration, not a piecemeal, un-governed and non-compliant approach.
Complex, mission-critical integration initiatives require significant oversight and expertise to ensure data flows smoothly across the enterprise without violating data policies and without getting diverted by poorly conceived or maintained configurations. If you have the will and resources, you could attempt this in house. But unless executed by a well-resourced and highly experienced integration team, you’re essentially digging the pitfalls of self-service integration wider and deeper.
As big data, cloud delivery, and the proliferation of applications continue to complicate the integration landscape, fast-moving enterprises are turning to a managed services integration approach. Under this model, known as dPaaS (Data Platform as a Service), the cloud-based integration provider designs and maintains all aspects of the solution—and even the data if so desired—on behalf of the enterprise. Full transparency into the data and data flows is made available to the enterprise so that status and desired outcome can be verified, but on the whole, the provider is trusted to manage integrations from a Center of Excellence.
By leveraging the infrastructure and expertise of the integration provider, whose core focus is evolving the cloud-based integration platform, enterprises are able to stay relevant in today’s fast-changing data environment without having to invest in the technologies themselves. What’s more, once freed from the pitfalls of self-service integration, IT is able to focus on business value add projects, a win for the entire enterprise.
Manish Gupta is CMO at Liaison Technologies, which focuses on data management, data integration, and big data markets.
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