Can IT Be Too Good at Integration?

Loraine Lawson

You're good at integration. But are you too good?


(Pause for dramatic effect.)


Well, are you?


As it turns out, that's a darn good question to ask yourself, because, apparently, IT departments become so good at point-to-point integration, the business won't support other initiatives that might cut down on future integration projects.


It sounds like a nice problem to have, but, here's the catch: When you're really good at integration, the business doesn't realize all the little integration projects it creates. You've just eliminated the pain points for the business, but not the price points. So when you come up with something better that might cut eliminate or reduce future integration work, the business has no stomach for the upfront costs-even if it would save everybody money in the long run.


Believe it or not, it's a common problem for IT groups trying to introduce master data management (MDM), according to Andrew White, an analyst with Gartner. White writes about a call for help he received from an IT department in a similar bind:

This of course is a common situation-but this call just seemed to bring a laser like focus on this issue for me. IT spends too much money on "integration" and has masked the real problem from the business such much, that IT cannot effectively sell the need for change.

The IT division wanted to know how it could build a business case for MDM. White discusses some of the business rationale behind MDM, but eventually, the IT department came around to another really great question:

'OK, so we talk of MDM as if it is new, whereas we know the problem is not new-but how have users been "solving" this problem before MDM technologies came along?' The subtext to this question was, "Do I need to consider a separate, standalone MDM technology to enable my MDM discipline, or can my ERP system do the work?

The answer, he notes, is complicated. Sure, business users have found a way to live without MDM-obviously. And, yes, they've done that in part with enterprise resource planning systems, but, the problem is, ERP isn't designed for that and doesn't work well for managing master data:

ERP was never designed to be part of the information or integration infrastructure; it has little interest in worrying about the quality of master data outside its purview. ERP is about homogenous environments. Why would it care about what is essentially a problem in heterogeneous environments!


Underlying this whole conversation, though, is IT's sorted history of "selling" solutions to the business. On the surface, it sounds like an opportunity for IT to shine -- "Hey, we've found this approach that could save us big money down the road!"


But in many cases, these big-spend technology initiatives are a catch-22 for IT, as many learned to their detriment during service-oriented architecture, ERP and a host of other, massively expensive IT undertakings. These initiatives seldom show an immediate pay-off, and business can be so near-sighted.


Like these projects, MDM may be the right choice in the long term, but in the short term, it's a lot of money spent in a shaky economy for little to no visible business payoff.


Plus, let's face it: IT initiatives don't have a great track record of delivering business success. This has already become a noticeable problem in other MDM initiatives, according to this Information Management (previously, DM Review) article.


I suspect if you're a CIO with an expected average tenure of four years and five months, it must be tempting to just ignore the potential and stick with the status quo.


There are business benefits beyond the integration costs savings, and you can bring these to the business. You might even succeed, if you manage expectations, your heart is pure and your cause is just.


I can help you with the business case. White specifically mentions better data governance, which in turn reduces duplication of the work done by end users. He also frequently writes about MDM, so you might want to just follow his blog. Here are more resources to help you build a business case for MDM:


As for the "managing expectations/pure of heart/cause is just" thing - you're on your own. Good luck to you.

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