There's quite a bit of excitement surrounding enterprise application integration (EAI) these days. The enthusiasm is well justified because EAI is most likely going to be one of the core information technology (IT) requirements in the next three or four years. As Gartner analysts Ross Altman and Roy Schulte say of the coming EAI revolution, "Integration middleware will be a permanent part of the software infrastructure, like a DBMS."1 However, if you're considering undertaking an EAI initiative, you must build a solid business case that includes more than a standard project plan. This business case can be built by conducting an EAI strategic assessment.
The first step in any EAI project is to conduct an impact assessment. No IT project happens in a vacuum, and any EAI venture you undertake will have an effect on your other IT projects. According to Gartner, EAI is a fundamental requirement for the success of many IT initiatives. "A proper application integration infrastructure is a key enabler of whatever new e-business initiative an enterprise undertakes, from customer relationship management to supply chain management, or from business-to-consumer to business-to-business initiatives,"2 say Gartner analysts Simon Mingay and Massimo Pezzini. Because EAI will have such an impact on your organization's IT infrastructure, it's critical that you understand how its implementation will ripple through the organization and affect other initiatives already in progress.
Next, conduct an IT environment assessment. Companies that have chosen growth through acquisition as their major expansion strategy often discover that integration of IT systems especially when those systems are running well and serving their intended purpose was overlooked. As a result, information is contained in silos much as it was before the two companies became one and the new, united company often does not have a true enterprise- wide view of its information. Even if your organization has not grown through acquisition, there are probably departments with siloed IT systems. This vertically dis-integrated environment is ripe for an EAI solution.
The next step is to determine the business requirements for the EAI initiatives. I call this the business payoff. Ask, "What tangible results do we want from this project?" For example, business requirements for a manufacturer could be elimination of data-entry redundancies, enterprise-wide availability of customer and product information, and an accurate view of inventory levels. Obviously, these needs are applicable to virtually any business. EAI is an integral part of the solution to these needs. The best way to develop these requirements is to conduct a series of cross-functional workshops to harness the brainpower of the best and brightest people in the organization and gain consensus on what the requirements are for the business as a whole.
Next, conduct an application survey to determine which IT applications are prime candidates for EAI. The primary indicator that an application is an EAI candidate is that the application plays a role in meeting the business requirements you have defined. For instance, to meet the need of a consolidated view of inventory levels, an auto-parts manufacturer might be feeding data into and reporting from four or five different inventory systems. This process is labor intensive, error-prone and time-consuming. With EAI, all of the systems could be linked and some redundant systems could possibly be eliminated to form a coherent inventory picture that could yield common, accurate answers.
Another integral part of your EAI strategic assessment is a vendor evaluation that results in a short list of first-class vendors. Issues to address in the vendor assessment include: software functionality, market presence, stability and product/customer support structures. Top-notch vendors will have a sound product that meets most if not all of your needs. These companies will also be well-established (relative to the newness of the EAI sector), and they will have excellent responses to questions you ask and needs that you express. Finally, their customer support structure will be comprehensive, preferably with help available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
As with any planning project, this EAI strategic assessment should culminate in a high-level project plan, complete with rough time frames for project completion. The environment and impact assessments, along with the business requirements and application survey, should enable you to easily determine both project cost and potential ROI. If you can come away from this assessment with these deliverables and the results of your analysis point to EAI as a good fit for your organization, you are well on your way to implementing a successful EAI solution.
1. Altman, Ross and Roy Schulte. "Application Integration Middleware Market." Research Note. Gartner, 1 September 2000.
2. Mingay, Simon and Massimo Pezzini. "The Risks of Application Integration." Research Note. Gartner, 31 January 2001.
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