Is This the Era of Macro-Integration?


Last week, I questioned whether integration could be considered a strategic issue or whether it is essentially tactical. In weighing the value of integration as a "big picture" discipline, I referenced a recent blog post by John Schmidt of Informatica, in which Schmidt argues that having an integration strategy could give companies a competitive advantage.

This week, Schmidt responded. Normally, I don't like to do too much "he said, and then I said, and then he said" -- even though that's what blogs seem to do best -- but I think Schmidt's update sheds new light on how integration became so complex and why it is such a critical issue for companies. He also expands the case for Integration Competency Centers.

Schmidt begins by pointing out that, 20 years ago, integration could be handled without the oversight of an ICC. Since then, organizations and information has evolved in three key ways that require large organizations to adopt ICCs, he explained:

  1. Companies -- particularly the Fortune 500 firms -- got a lot bigger. Revenue grew, staff numbers grew and more companies shifted to global operations than in the 1980s.
  2. Data diversity and volume has been growing at an exponential rate. I love the stat he uses as proof: Manufacturers of storage devices were expected to ship more than 22 exabytes (22 million trillion bytes) of hard disk capacity in 2005. He notes that's "four times the space needed to store every word ever spoken by every human who has ever lived." Four times! And that's a three-year-old statistic!
  3. IT became more complex and abstract. No kidding. Thirty years ago, people used paper tape readers -- 10 years later, we used them as scratch paper in school -- and now look at us. Storage is so small, we're afraid someone will walk out the door with vital company data in their front shirt pocket. And, as Schmidt notes, we've got layer upon layer of abstraction. Preschoolers can use computers and we're being told even non-programmers will be able to perform minor data integration with mashups.

Schmidt calls this a shift from micro-integration to macro-integration:

"We could say that projects require micro-integration techniques while the complex systems-of-systems that emerge over time at the enterprise and supply chain scale require macro-integration best practices such as Integration Competency Centers. The ICC disciplines are a powerful capability, but they are non-trivial and hence those organizations that do it better than others will have a competitive advantage."

Certainly, I can see how tackling these sort of complexities could give Fortune 500 companies an edge. But I'm still on the fence when it comes to the strategic value of integration in laggard organizations that stick to a more sedentary technology adoption pace. Perhaps, as Todd Biske argued last week, ICCs aren't widely adopted because many mid- and even large-sized businesses don't really have that many systems involved in their integration challenges.