Data Integration Remains a Major IT Headache
Study shows that data integration is still costly and requires a lot of manual coding.
Heads up, CIOs: There's a new tech integration problem starting, and, not surprisingly, it's starting in the lines of business. Given the scope of the problem, it probably won't be long before you're called in to handle the data integration details. Of course, if history's any indication, by then the LOBs will have already invested in a solution and it'll be too late to negotiate.
That may work out well for systems integrators like Accenture and Capgemini, but how's it going to work for you?
The next integration problem area is energy management software
, and while it's still an emerging market, the data integration challenges it'll create will be very familiar to you by now. A recent study by Verdantix pointed out the looming integration problems after a survey of 33 software vendors and 16 software buyers. Admittedly, that's a small sample size, but keep reading and I think you'll see why there's cause for concern.
The problem is energy management software needs to integrate with a wide range of devices and systems. It's going to need data about your high-tech security system, but it also needs to monitor manufacturing equipment and boilers. Energy management systems may need to integrate with MDM, ERP, third-party sources that provide data about weather or energy rates, manufacturing plant systems and so on.
And as Peter Charville-Mort, who authored the study, points out, no one application can access all these end points.
Optimizing enterprise-wide energy consumption and generation is a big prize that firms like Dow Chemical and cities such as New York are waking up to. But the vast diversity of energy consuming assets-lights, security systems, HVAC, boilers, elevators, servers, routers, manufacturing equipment-means no single application will collect the data from all energy consuming end points. So the boom in energy management software-with 38 new applications launched since January 2009-risks hitting the buffers unless buyers plan for a big integration project.
Additionally, two other factors are complicating integration in energy management:
- Verdantix counts 72 energy management software vendors operating globally. Most only support point problems, which means you could need up to eight different energy management solutions to really address the most common usage scenarios, explains Heather Clancy, who covers green tech at ZDNet.
- No one person is responsible for purchasing this software, and as a result, it may come into the organization at multiple points. Verdantix interviewed 33 vendors ("suppliers," according to the survey's lingo) and found that only 19 percent of their sales were to IT, and CFOs were a direct contract sponsor for only 28 percent of the vendors. So who's buying this stuff? Whoever oversees energy in most cases, although a good percentage are also acquired by the "head of facilities" and/or the "head of sustainability."
So what can IT do to head off this potential integration problem? Charville-Mort suggests you start saving now for a major data integration project down the road. Just what you need, right? What else can you do? Well, Verdantix is selling a buyer's guide for energy management software, but I think the press release gives you a few hidden clues:
- These deals are able to bypass IT because in most places, there is no corporate IT policy on energy software. So it seems to me like creating such a policy would be a good first step toward heading this integration problem off at the pass.
- Consider the integration benefits of going with a big vendor in this field. I hate to advocate for any company - especially smaller companies - but at the same time, you have to think that companies like IBM, Oracle and SAP have more experience in handling data integration challenges than a niche vendor. In IT, smaller companies tend to offer more targeted solutions, so you'll have to weigh the benefits of that against the potential costs of integration.
- Look at what suppliers (aka, vendors) are doing to address integration. Some are "throwing warm bodies at the problem," Verdantix notes, by developing their own wrap-around energy services (64 percent of the 33 surveyed), while others are partnering for things like data collection, processing, analysis and energy procurement (12 percent).
Clancy does a nice job of explaining what this integration problem will mean:
As a result of this unfolding scenario, almost two-thirds of the software suppliers in this particular category have developed integration services to address this challenge. That services opportunity is another thing that will make this applications category ripe for mergers and overall consolidation. It is also another reason companies such as IBM, Oracle, CA and SAP likely will dominate sales and deployments in the future.
Janet Lin, a Verdantix senior manager, suggests that IT services firms - she specifically mentions Accenture, Capgemini and Infosys - will have the skill set to manage this integration challenge. "But," she adds, "connecting up the software to creaking analogue systems to automate data collection and control devices will be costly and very slow."
Don't say you weren't warned.