The Enterprise Management Trend That’s Driving Integration Work

Loraine Lawson

Lawson: How do they look to technology to support this? 

Reeves: Transaction integration isn’t going to make that work. It’s visibility. Even all the way back to the talent: Who’s the person who is going to be looking at the talent, not just the list of employees, but also all the metadata associated with their skills and experience and everything else, possibly even unstructured information, on how they're thought of in social circles or what have you, and be able to compile that into a “who to invite” to a global program. The company’s success in the future is going to depend on their being able to solve the information problem. I don’t think anybody has yet.

Lawson: Okay, so I write about integration and typically we’re talking about technology when we talk about integration. When you talk about integrating the enterprise, are you taking a broader, business view? What do you mean by “integrating the enterprise?”

Reeves: Today, you think of enterprise integration a couple different ways. One is just integrating transaction and processes, and the other is integrating information. Back in the SOA days, you were primarily focused on the transactional nature of integration. Today it’s really about information.

The weight of the key issues study and the content we’re producing has mostly to do with that information integration across the enterprise. For example, master data management: being able to do the analytics on top of that.

Lawson: So you are talking about technology integration. What, in general, did you find in terms of a big takeaway when it comes to enterprise integration and where we are today?

Reeves: On the information side of things, it’s not just technology, right? We’re talking about integrating processes that leverage the information as well.

The big thing that has changed is, as a corporation expands globally or even domestically, it becomes fractured and the information becomes fractured. It becomes increasingly important to consolidate that information to make decisions, but also to be able to serve customers. So if you call one help desk and you have your customer information handy, if they were to call a different service desk, would they have the same information? And then if your collections company needs to call the customer, do they have the same information? Because the different facets of those processes are distributed, the information problem is getting worse.

What we see in our key issue study is an increasing focus on a couple of things. One is information quality and consistency; that’s the master data element. A customer is a customer is a customer.

Then the analytics side is no longer just about reporting and it’s not even really about traditional analytics, but also ad hoc (reporting), even predictive modeling -- Being able to take that information and draw inference from it. It’s becoming increasingly important.

Then, to have the talent in place to be able to draw inferences from the information, to collect insight on what to do about it; otherwise, it’s just noise.

And we haven’t made, as an industry, good enough traction. The demand is outpacing our ability to keep up on the implementation side, and that’s why you're seeing heightened priority, even as we’ve been working on this for the past five, seven, 10 years even.

Lawson: It does seem like there’s more demand for integration. You would think it would go the other way.

Reeves: Well, you're right and it’s not because we’re not doing the work. It’s simply because what the business is requiring from that integration is moving faster than what we’re able to implement.

Lawson: For a long time, it seemed like the goal of integration was to get everything in one place and eliminate the siloes. But now it seems like siloes are going to persist. I recently read that the data sets have become so large, we have to give up on this idea of one place to store data and embrace integration as a fact of life. Do you hear anything about that at all or do you have any thoughts about that?

Reeves: Yes, the information explosion phenomenon in general is exacerbating the problem. And there have been companies in the past that have tried to build literally a physical center of the universe for the information that is growing exponentially. I don’t think you’ll ever be able to realistically get there.

When I talk to folks about a single source of truth or consolidating information, what you're really doing is getting to a set of standards that decides what data looks like with the structure of the data. And then at the end of the day, who really owns it? Which system really owns the master copy of that? It doesn’t mean that you have one copy, it just means that you may have 15 different copies, but at the end of the day you know who has the truth, that single record.

So MDM platforms, for an example, are designed to try to solve that, not by creating a single repository, but by being able to manage a single record across disparate data sources. I think that’s the only realistic approach, it’s just not easy to do.

Be sure to also read the second part of this conversation on The Hackett Group's invitation-only event, "Borderless Business: Integrating the Enterprise for Sustainable Success," The Best and Worst Practices for Global Enterprise Integration.

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