This month's column is written by Steve Craggs, European chair for the EAI Industry Consortium who has more than 20 years in the software business. He is the founder of Saint Consulting, specializing in business integration software. He is often referred to as the father of messaging and appears regularly in the press, at seminars and at trade shows.
As businesses strive to continually improve process efficiency and deliver better returns on their IT investments, enterprise application integration (EAI) remains one of the top priorities as a way to achieve these goals. What may surprise many, however, it that more than 70 percent of these EAI projects fail in some way, where failure is rated as missing deadlines, blowing budgets or failing to deliver the service that the business was expecting. This is of great concern to members of the EAI Industry Consortium (EAIIC), a worldwide, not-for-profit forum for anyone involved in EAI.
In order to try to help more businesses succeed with their business integration aims, the EAIIC held a workshop for members last summer to try to identify the most common causes for these project failures with a view to publishing a white paper offering some best practices guidance to others either embarking on their own EAI projects or looking for ways to improve their EAI project performance. The result of this workshop was the identification of a set of EAI "bear traps," the most common traps that companies encountered in their own EAI implementations. This was an important factor in the workshop approach - time was spent concentrating on real experiences rather than on academic debates.
Full details of the workshop results are available from the Consortium Web site, www.eaiindustry.org. However, the rest of this article dips into the contents of the resulting white paper to give a flavor of these key issues to be addressed by anyone engaged in EAI implementations. The first and perhaps most surprising observation was that none of the bear traps were overtly technical. Instead most could be considered "management" issues. On reflection, this is not as odd as it sounds because technical issues can generally be resolved reasonable quickly whereas management issues tend to be much more resistant to a quick fix. This makes understanding the bear traps even more essential, particularly at the early planning stage.
The first bear trap considered here is that standards are never universal. This is a particularly topical bear trap because the EAI marketplace has seen considerable standards activity over the last few years with the advent of XML, Java-based standards such as JMS and Web services. EAI vendors will make various claims of adherence to these emerging standards, and the message from both vendors and standards bodies is that as long as you base EAI implementations on the standards, companies will not have to worry about interoperability and will be able to avoid vendor lock in. Many companies have fallen for this marketing line and have set the project budget, resource plan and time line based on the assumption that use of standards will deliver these claimed benefits.
Unfortunately, the reality is that although the intention may be pure, the execution generally turns out to be less exciting. Because a number of these standards are very young and still developing, vendors tend to "add value" to them in their own implementations. In addition, there are often conflicting standards bodies each driven by their own vendor support group - this is particularly true in the Web services area. The result is that the assumption that everything will work together because everyone is supporting the standards proves to be a dream, and the project is left struggling with the need to add resources and interoperability testing steps that had not at first been envisaged. The solution is to be realistic when putting plans in place.
Another bear trap that has cased many companies a major headache is that ownership and accountability must be clear. There are numerous issues wrapped into this bear-trap, but the most fundamental one stems from the fact that business integration projects overlap both IT and Business Unit areas of expertise. One area where this stands out is in the area of user support or help desk service. If the EAI project is providing business process integration between different process steps, then a failure to deliver the required results may be due to IT implementation or to the specified business process rules and flow. As a result, the help desk facility needs IT programmer and business analyst skills.
This may seem a simple issue to address, but numerous companies found this a real problem in practice. The problem appeared to be that this became an organizational debate, with senior managers on the IT side of the business arguing with their business unit counterparts over headcount and assignment of specialist skills from the other area to the help-desk facility. This is the type of problem that can take months to address, completely destroying the project roll-out plans. The advice from users is to have these discussions as early as possible, so the organizational issues can be resolved in parallel to the project development activities.
Other bear traps covered areas such as EAI skills management, change management and interface definition conflicts. This last bear trap is another example of problems being generated because of internal disconnects between the business and technical communities. However the good news is that at least some of the potential pitfalls in EAI project implementation have at last been written down, and every bear trap avoided increases the overall chances of project success significantly. Learning from the experiences of others combined with careful planning promises to give users of EAI a much more rosy outlook.
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