My degree is in English and came from a school that specialized in rhetoric. I learned long ago that an argument can be made for just about anything. So, while I can see how a case can be made for integration, I frequently wonder whether it's actually really any more strategic than, say, keeping on the lights or providing help desk support?
After all, the business can't survive without those functions, either, but they're hardly critical to the business model.
I know I write about integration's strategic value most days, but the question still nags at me. After all, it's a fairly tactical discipline, in some ways. You have two machines, two systems, two databases, and you need to integrate them. In the end, it comes down to the technology of tying them together, right?
I've received a number of answers over the years. But I have to say, a recent white paper written by David Norfolk, Bloor Research practice director, answers the question better than anything I've read or heard to date.
And the funny thing is, that's not the white paper's main intent at all.
Norfolk is actually defining and making a case for agile integration. Of course, everyone in IT sees the word "agile" and thinks about agile development, but Norfolk writes that he's using the more common and simple definition of "agile," which is to say the ability to change and adapt quickly and easily.
In other words, he means agile, as in the exact opposite of what most of us now think of when they hear the words, "integration."
He describes agile integration as having five characteristics:
- Real-time data quality control
- Rapid development
- Incremental adoption
- Rapid response to change.
His white paper doesn't tell you how to create agile integration. Instead, he describes the current situation with integration-what he calls the "tar pit of integration" -- and explains how agile integration would solve these problems. He includes three case studies featuring companies with different integration challenges. I suspect you'll recognize your organization in at least one of them.
Along the way, he manages to prove integration's strategic importance to businesses by showing how the traditional project-based, tactical approach to integration strangles business and IT and then providing examples of how agile integration practices can help IT and the business become more flexible, responsive and, well ... agile.
For instance, there's this explanation of why integration isn't just an IT function:
"IT and the business mustn't operate in separate silos. Integration projects mustn't become an end in themselves but a means to deliver business benefit. For this to work in practice, both IT and business stakeholders must be involved in modelling and in deciding which abstractions should be implemented.
He also discusses the importance of metadata management-a topic newly dear to my heart-and data quality, which he describes as a make-or-break step before automating integration.
The white paper, "Avoiding the Integration Tar Pit," was written this month and is available for free download from TechTarget.
Beyond Norfolk's recommendations for agile integration, you might want to consider how an integration competency center could support a more strategic approach to integration. In an executive summary of a recent report, Forrester suggests an enterprise-wide approach to integration is more important than ever:
The most common trend has been the expansion of existing products and services to the point where boundaries between specific integration market categories have blurred considerably and application, process, and data integration are no longer isolated islands of functionality. Enterprises should consider responding to this trend by consolidating their varied integration resources into a single shared services group (an integration competency center) that will be able to deal with a multitude of interconnected integration challenges in the most effective manner.
Clearly, both Norfolk's paper and the Forrester blog post show integration is no longer a project-level issue. Norfolk's white paper was written for IT managers "below CIO level," and software applications vendors, but I think it's great reading for anyone who wants to understand why integration is a strategic, core issue for organizations-business AND IT - to solve.