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Satisfying Stakeholders when Choosing an EII Solution

  • September 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

This month, I'd like to continue the discussion of the business time information architecture (BTIA), which I introduced in the May issue of DM Review. The BTIA makes use of enterprise information integration (EII) technologies to retrieve, combine and present data from disparate systems across the enterprise in a common presentation layer; to the user, it looks as if the information is coming from a global SQL database. EII technology is relatively new, however, and many vendors' products are not mature or robust enough to be deployed on an enterprise scale.

To complicate matters further, EII technologies are unique in their capabilities as information technology toolsets. Therefore, selection criteria that an organization would use to choose another toolset - a business intelligence product for example - often don't fit the bill. Also, because EII technology will be pervasive throughout the organization, it will affect many different stakeholders - not just end users. These stakeholders often form powerful voices within the organization. Their needs must be considered and fulfilled if the EII solution is to be a success.

The three stakeholder groups in any organization that are most affected by an EII project are systems implementers, systems administrators and, of course, end users. These are the groups whose effort and support - or the lack thereof - will make or break any EII project. Therefore, whatever toolset you choose must make their jobs easier.

Let's take the systems implementation group first. This is the team who will customize, install and perform a significant amount of development work on whatever EII toolset you choose. Make no mistake, even if your EII vendor is an end-to-end shop, your systems implementation people will still be involved. They know your information systems better than any vendor ever will. They are the first group you must satisfy with your EII toolset selection. Here's how you can do that.

First, choose an EII toolset that has a flexible development environment. At a minimum, the toolset should provide a development environment that supports both team and remote development. It should also support multiple operating systems, databases, system architectures and platforms. Windows, UNIX, Java (with all its flavors) and XML are must-haves - along with SQL and non-SQL databases. Unstructured content support and inclusion - such as material found in corporate document repositories - is also critical. Finally, the EII toolset should offer complex algorithm creation and calculation functionality so that developers can quickly build robust applications that really answer the questions of business users.

The second group of stakeholders that must be satisfied with the EII toolset you choose are your systems administrators. These people will bear the burden of keeping whatever EII solution is implemented tuned and running from day to day. Systems administrators' needs focus on ease-of-use characteristics. The foremost ease-of-use criterion is consolidated system management functionality. All systems maintenance and surveillance functionality should be housed in a single management console that enables administrators to monitor and tweak each database or repository in the system - regardless of the type - as if the solution were one consolidated database.

The last, but certainly not least, group that must be satisfied with your choice of EII solutions is the end-user community. The primary requirement of the user community is transparency. By transparency, I mean that the user shouldn't be concerned with the machinations the system goes through to retrieve, coalesce and present requested data. If your users feel like they're faced with the daunting task of querying many different enterprise systems or repositories to answer a business question, they're going to run away screaming.

Of course, they will be retrieving and coalescing information from multiple platforms, systems and databases, but users don't want to think of it that way. They want one easy-to-navigate interface that makes the many appear as one. In this same vein, powerful query support is also crucial. The EII solution must support complex queries that combine information from all those systems to answer tough business questions.

I've purposely kept this discussion at a high level. These criteria are a minimum "starter set" of must-haves. There are other very technical criteria that differentiate the various EII toolsets on the market - such as how the tools handle meta data and what integration technologies are used - that will chiefly determine your choice. However, the criteria I've discussed here are the discussion starters or qualifiers to cull the "wanna-bes" from the real players before you get to the really technical discussion. They're also largely common sense. Any really top-notch EII vendor will have a toolset that meets all of these criteria and much more. Happy hunting!

All information provided is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act upon such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation. The views and opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of BearingPoint, Inc.

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