Enterprise Integration, Done Right, Can Change the Business


Recently, my IT programmer/analyst husband was talking about a huge time management system that he suspects is going to tick off a lot of his company's workforce.


I know: You want to know what IT did wrong this time. But hold your fire: In this case, it's not going to tick them off because it's hard to use or because it's new or just because IT is forcing it on them. No, it's going to make a lot of people mad because they've been cheating the current paper-based system. And when I say "cheating," I mean cheating as in it made the news.


The software, theoretically, won't make it easy to circumvent the business rules and policies. What's more, it will create an audit trail in cases where people do make exceptions.


What's smart about this implementation is the new software will actually capture what the business wants to do and what the business policies require, rather than just recreating on the computer what was previously done on paper.


Too often, IT gets bogged down in just coding -- literally -- what already exists, rather than helping the business do better. Enterprise integration, it seems to me, is an area ripe for this type of misstep. After all, when IT talks about enterprise integration, it's usually looking at connecting systems and applications and not necessarily the business processes.


But for some companies, that's changing. In fact, as this Computer World article explains, the business side is now using "enterprise integration" in a larger sense to mean the strategic integration of business processes -- not just systems and applications, but the actual workings of the business -- across the company.


Score one for IT/business alignment, because it turns out business-savvy, strategy-minded CIOs are playing a huge role in making this happen.


The article is actually a Q&A with the three authors of "Teaming Up to Crack Innovation and Enterprise Integration," an article published this month in the Harvard Business Review.


As I said, the writers don't mean "enterprise integration" in the strict technology sense. Instead, they're referring to a new business unit, the enterprise integration group or -- because there's such a horrible dearth of three letter acronyms -- EIG. According to the article, the EIG is:

"A group responsible for transforming the corporation into an efficient participant in an industry ecosystem, primarily as a result of an external and internal business process redesign. An 'outside-in' perspective on this work distinguishes this group from pure process improvement work. The key measures for this work focus on breakthrough business integration projects that radically improve the organization's performance in the eyes of customers or key suppliers."

I suspect these redesigns do involve technology integration, but the work described here is much bigger and more in line with what should happen before you actually integrate the technology. It's about figuring out a better way to do business and could, the piece notes, even change a company's business model.


Given the potential business/technology hybrid nature of this work, it's not surprising that CEOs are asking CIOs to play an active role in enterprise integration groups -- or a second emerging group that also relies heavily on technology for innovation -- the distributed innovation group (DIG). The article describes the distributed innovation group as a sort of internal incubator for businesses, monitoring external sources for ideas that can be used to grow the business.


The piece also explains what roles IT typically plays in aiding both groups.


If the Computer World article doesn't offer enough depth, you may want to go a step further and buy the original article. You can do this by either picking up the November 2008 edition of the Harvard Business Review or buying an electronic copy of the article online for $6.50.