Don't Forget to Thank the Integration Team

Loraine Lawson
Slide Show

Strategic Integration: 10 Business-Building Tips

Ten ways that companies can use integration and integration-related strategies to build business.

Integration is a weird tech topic. It seems very tactical, but it can also be strategic, depending on how you approach it.


For instance, it can cost ridiculous sums done tactically, but take a strategic approach, and you can reduce your IT costs significantly.


But what's really weird is that, in many ways, it's not THAT big of a deal. Most integration issues, particularly with data, have been solved at some point by someone.


That's why data integration platforms ship with pre-packaged connectors and many vendors even offer e-stores or communities where you can buy and sell connectors for various integration dilemmas.


But integration is detail work. That's why data models are so important and why experts talk a lot about things like metadata. These tactical issues can create huge problems, which in turn can create major strategic issues.


It's easy, when you think about IT on a strategic level, to forget how these tactical issues matter. But it's an important point for CIOs and other IT leaders to keep in mind, I think, whether you're investing in a data integration platform or upset about a hand-coded project that seems to drag on and on.


I was reminded of this myself recently when dealing with an issue caused by integration's first cousin, interoperability.


Mostly, I use a really cool research and writing tool called Scrivener, which does some formatting, but I use it for basic text. That's because I mostly write for the Web so it doesn't usually matter what I use, since it'll be posted into a Web-based blogger software. I'd just work in the tool, but I still don't trust browsers. A new client uses Microsoft Word. That's fine, I thought, and I quickly downloaded OpenOffice - which is my go-to word processor because I'm cheap and my past two computers didn't ship with Microsoft Office.


Now, I have never had interoperability problems between Microsoft Word and OpenOffice until now. For some reason, no matter what I did, the formatting kept changing - we're talking skull and crossbones for bullet points and entire tables disappearing here. The client had very specific formatting issues, plus used the comments function - all of which looked fine on my computer but malfunctioned on the client's laptop.


It wasn't just a corrupt file, either. It happened repeatedly. The client became so frustrated, they soon gave me an ultimatum: Buy Microsoft Word or forget it.

I'll be honest: I had to think about it. Microsoft Word is pricey and my experience with it in the past has not always been happy. For one thing, I have to buy the whole suite, and I really only need the word processor.


But ultimately, I bought it. Nearly $200, all because word processors can't play nicely.


Being a Twitter addict, I grumpily shared my problem. "So, here's my question: Does integration of data goes as awry as often as interoperability between word processors?" I asked.


Twitter's like yelling down a hallway of doors and hoping someone answers you. Many times, no one does, but Mike Pittaro, a co-founder of integration company SnapLogic and currently a principal engineer at The La Honda Research Center, had mercy.


"Imagine hundreds of different word processors, disagreeing on formats + encoding, then trying to get business consensus," he replied.


I tried to. It made my head hurt really, really badly.


What's my point? Integration is hard, frustrating work. Most of us haven't tried it, but judging for how well we deal with small interoperability issues, my guess is we'd rather go bang our head against a wall for eight hours than try it.


The people with the patience, intelligence and skill to do it often work quietly, behind the scenes, but they deserve some props from IT leaders. Some scones and coffee in the break room come Monday morning wouldn't hurt, either.

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