This month's column is contributed by Wafik Farag, chair of the Boston chapter of the Integration Consortium and CEO of SkyPrise.

Business communities are in need of a new paradigm that would revolutionize access and use of information, making users more productive and innovative. Technology communities are looking for flexible architectures that enhance serviceability and scalability while reducing the lifecycle cost. As the needs of business and technology align, it appears that the goal of having real-time information at our fingertips in a secure Web-based system that is customizable to an individual's needs is becoming a reality.

Increasing revenue is a goal of every corporation. Three key factors that affect revenue are productivity, innovation and operational cost. Decision-makers seek information to help direct their business and understand its pulse. In a corporate setting, such individuals use desktops to access and create emails, Excel spreadsheets and other forms of unstructured data, which contain valuable corporate information. The ability to connect the dots of these disparate information facets with other structured corporate data sources can drastically enhance decision-making and lead to greater corporate productivity. The dilemma is that, in today's world, decision-makers are locked out of such a capability.

Static Integration - A Moving Target

Every time a user creates a new file, the IT department sees an integration challenge growing down the road. If the rate of information generation surpasses the rate of information integration, a corporation sinks in a sea of inaccessible data. It will be all content with no information insight. As a result, business managers throw more money at the problem, but the problem will continue to persist as more and more data is generated. The problem is in the integration approach used. Each integration effort is a costly and time-consuming project. Integration projects require IT experts to gather business requirements, design a process and a schema of the system requested, implement it and roll it out - a time-consuming manual process. Only after all this work could a user finally do business with the newly delivered system. However, the new system might already have stale data or not up-to-date business process changes. Any new information will start the catch-up game again. This manual integration process is what we describe as "static integration." Unfortunately, business can no longer wait for IT to keep competitive and profitable business is accelerating forward. IT's constant challenge is keeping up with business, always having to play catch-up with depleting budgets and having little productivity to show for it.

Dynamic Integration - Building Business Value

Business value can be introduced into an organization by building a "dynamic integration" environment. Dynamic integration is where an end user can, without programming, integrate information between disparate data sources on the fly. An end user circumvents the long, costly IT integration cycle and moves to the front seat of the information chain. End users become users. Users become information producers and not just consumers. Users can experiment with new ideas, explore, change their minds, discover and innovate without penalty. Integration becomes a real-time activity where users connect the dots without programming or being impeded by technology. Integration becomes a tool for supporting business processes, and information becomes a business differentiator. Unlike aggregation tools, dynamic integration brings information insight versus information blot.

Genesis of Integration

Historically, mainframe computers created a central system for corporations. Mainframes saved corporate operational cost and increased its productivity through centrally controlled information systems. Later, desktops formed a new level of productivity for end-users. Users realized the effect of personal computing power with an independent operating system freeing them to customize, create and share files and emails. This created an information blot. Information started popping up everywhere. What began as synergistic pool of information assets has now become multiple pools of disparate data sources, which are an impediment to the corporation. Information may exist within the corporate firewall, but no one can figure out where it is, what it is or who knows it. Moreover, the Internet created a second level of disparate information source, this time outside the corporate firewall. Users want to connect public information on the Web with personal information on the desktop together with corporate information. For example, a user gets a customer email containing an address with a request to meet. The user seeks Web directions using content from email on the laptop. At the same time, that user wants to optimize the trip and visit other customers in the same area prioritizing them based on purchasing volume from data located in the corporate system. Integration all of a sudden becomes a daily activity because of growing number of data sources. With the Internet, laptops, wireless devices, etc. the problem is only growing exponentially.

The Solution - An Information Operating System

An information operating system (I\O/S) puts information management, integration, access and sharing, in particular, at the fingertips of users. This type of integration amalgamation allows users to experience and enjoy a customized environment with real-time information management without programming. For example, a user can integrate a business intelligence report in an Excel spreadsheet with data in a corporate relational database and pipe the output into an existing function to find which customers need to be targeted for the next marketing campaign. Integration leadership by members of the Integration Consortium will shift the paradigm of static and siloed information to one which will allows users to access, browse, integrate and share many information item types, such as data, objects, applications, results, semantic/ontology and business processes. Google brought information to the masses through search and aggregation; an I\O/S with dynamic integration brings users information insight through integration and collaboration.

Wafik Farag drives the strategy for SkyPrise, Inc., a business solutions company targeting corporations who seek increased productivity and innovation through information technology. Since the mid-1990s he has successfully rolled out into production large projects in various industry verticals at I-Cube. After I-Cube (Razorfish) went public, he joined an elite team of process re-engineers and business strategists at PerotSystem Inc. Farag evangelizes about novel approaches to information integration that delivers solutions to business impediments. SkyPrise, Inc. is a member of the Integration Consortium, and Farag is the chair of the Integration Consortium Boston Chapter. He can be reached at Wafik@skyprise.com.

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