Information Week published a must-read profile on a massive integration project at Emerson, a St. Louis manufacturer, today. What's unusual -- at least in this day of SOA this and SOA that -- is that Emerson used two "older" technologies, EDI and XML, to create an integration hub for its 70 business units and sundry partners.
This is a textbook example of how integration can transform a business. Before this project, Emerson CIO Steve Hassell notes, Emerson looked like a bunch of uncoordinated, separate businesses. Suppliers complained that they had to deal with 20 or 30 business units within the company separately because the units did not communicate or coordinate in any substantial way. Now, Emerson looks and functions as one large company. But this isn't just about image. The company has also cut shipping container costs by 35 percent, resulting in millions of dollars in reduced transport costs. Emerson also has better supply chain management. Not bad for a $500,000 hub investment.
The article walks you through the business challenges and what steps the IT team took to understand the business processes, which, of course, weren't standardized. Since Emerson's IT division uses an service provider to the business units, it had to "sell" this project.
One challenge the team faced was the wide range of technical capabilities within the business. While some divisions had the on-staff technical prowress to connect to the hub without IT's help, others were clueless. The IT division addressed this problem by creating an Integration Center of Excellence, which offers consulting, support and even programming for divisions and external partners.
Now that's an idea I can get behind.
Because the company is so large and international in its dealings, the project is still being rolled out. At some point, IT plans to add a Web portal for suppliers who can't support XML or EDI.
It's a fascinating read, with a lot of takeaway lessons on how to organize and roll out a massive integration project. Be sure to check out the "Lessons Learned" sidebar on the second page.