Occasionally, I receive emails asking for advice about a particular integration problem or solution.
It’s both flattering and frightening, because it means I’m doing a pretty good job of covering this topic, but honestly, I only know enough to be dangerous and maybe scold my tech friends about best practices.
I write about integration and read about it a lot, but because I’m not hands-on with the technology, much of it doesn’t stick long in my mind. And I certainly don’t have the kind of experience you’d need to recommend a specific solution.
But there is one thing I can do really well that actually might be helpful in this situation: I know how to do research and find answers on the cheap.
Here’s how I would approach finding a solution if I didn’t have access or money for top-of-the-line solutions, consultants or IT research.
My first stop: Free reports and white papers.
I hope that doesn’t sound too obvious, but hear me out.
Analyst reports such as Forrester’s Wave and Gartner’s Magic Quadrant can run you nearly $1000 a pop. Check with your CIO to see if your organization has a membership, but if not, you can often find these reports available online for free — if time isn’t a huge factor.
I’ve found research reports available literally a month or two after publication, usually through one of the vendors who topped the list.
While these reports typically rank expensive solutions at the top —IBM/Informatica/Oracle/Microsoft — they also include challengers and visionaries, which are often smaller, more affordable offerings. The research also includes deep discussions about what’s available, what you should look for in a solution, and a list of smaller, more affordable solutions. They usually also include a short summary about these small vendors, so you can find niche or open source offerings that may fit your needs.
You can look at Gartner and Forrester’s sites to see a list of their Wave and Magic Quadrant reports, and then search by the name. If you can’t find the most recent version, you can certainly find last year’s edition. Typically, there are only marginal changes in the technology and offerings, but much of the information will be the same.
There are actually sites by vendors and independent sources devoted just to sharing these reports. For instance, Microsoft publishes a list linking to free research on a broad spectrum of IT challenges, including BI and data integration.
You can also find free reports and surveys by vendors. I’ll be honest, sometimes, these read like pure marketing, but most also are real information that you may find useful. IT Business Edge offers a library of free white papers that you can browse and search.
Don’t underutilize IT Business Edge, either. I’m one of a few bloggers who write specifically about integration daily, which means there are a lot of great Q&As with integration experts on this site. Plus, obviously, I often highlight free research in my posts.
Finally, if you’re doing anything with data, check out TDWI, which offers a ton of free research and webinars just for basic registration information. Often, the reports will have vendor sponsors, but I’ve found their reports to be top-notch and generally vendor-neutral.
Once you’ve found your report, you can either read or do a keyword search on your specific issue. For instance, if you need to integrate with a specific CRM tool, search for that. But again, don’t overlook the value of the general information, which can help you create a requirements list and cover issues you might not think about that can cost big money down the line. These reports will also help you get a handle on the potential costs of solving your problem.
This isn’t computer science, I know. Free reports may seem too obvious, but given the amount of … frankly, crap out there, I think a lot of people avoid it because they don’t want to wade through a sales pitch.
In my next post, I’ll share more techniques for hunting down integration options.