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Forming links

/ 3 August, 2010
It is a well documented fact that the Middle East remains a largely IT hardware market to date. As the construction and real estate sectors form new buildings everyday, hardware-based technology investments outstrip software and solutions by a huge percentage.However, in those companies that have crossed this initial investment phase, and have settled into having multiple applications running at the backend, enterprise application integration (EAI) might suddenly appear as the dominant need of the day.
“EAI, when done right, is the glue within the organisation that shows how the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” explains Srini Vinnakota, senior manager of SOA at Tibco Software.In its most basic form, EAI indicates the process of linking disparate applications within a single organisation, including the likes of supply chain management, CRM and HRMS among others. In other words, it does away with application silos to simplify business processes and increase organisational efficiency.
“While the concept of enterprise integration has been around for some time, what this approach means and how it works is changing. From once being a technology for storage, reconciliation and transfer of data between backend systems, enterprise integration has now evolved to become a business-driven platform for delivering a comprehensive view into what is happening,” says Vinnakota.He adds, “EAI delivers ROI by orchestrating the flow of information to the right person in the organisation at the right time. This enables better productivity of employees, holistic understanding of the customers, and lock-step execution with partners. EAI enables an organisation to increase the utilisation of its existing assets, be they packaged applications or custom in-house developed applications. This increased asset utilisation further increases ROI.”
Bashar Kilani, head of the software group at IBM in the region says, “ROI with EAI can be relatively high but this depends on how it is set-up and the complexity of the infrastructure involved. In the right circumstances, EAI can bring down operational cost and help enterprises target the market better. There are many aspects like this to calculate ROI.”
Counting pennies
EAI in an organisation can definitely pay back over time. However, worldover and in the region, EAI projects have the alarming ability to fail and cause more problems than they solve. The reason for most of these failures, though, lie much closer to home than one can feel comfortable about.
“Firms should be careful before they embark on an EAI project. For one, they should assess whether they actually need EAI. If they have only a couple of applications, then there is no need for it. But if they have a more complexinfrastructure, with say 20 applications, then EAI will be of real benefit. The simple rule is the more heavily you rely on your infrastructure, the more the ROI from EAI,” says Kilani.
He also advocates considering the speed at which the organisation would require apps to be added or removed to its backend. If an enterprise requires integration outside its boundaries, with partners and suppliers, then EAI is likely to become lucrative.Vinnikota adds, “enterprises in fast moving markets, where new functionality needs to be delivered to customers at regular intervals, need to adopt EAI. This will ensure that they not only have visibility into the fast paced changes in their markets, but they will also be able to adapt to such changes. Secondly, enterprises that start with huge partner ecosystems such as in telecom, need to consider EAI from the very beginning to ensure that they don’t quickly devolve into spaghetti architecture.”
He continues, “In some sectors, enterprises consider EAI after they have hit a certain threshold in terms of technology assets. This is primarily to align capital expenditures in technology with expected ROI. However, some of the newer firms in the region have shown great foresight in assessing the need for a well integrated technology infrastructure, and have deployed EAI technologies right from their inception. This enables them to avoid several of the potholes that organisations typically go through before adopting EAI.”
Countering trouble
Whether an organisation considers EAI from the beginning or starts after it has apps in place, many challenges continue to plague the project.
“EAI project need dedication. You need people who understand the company’s vision and are dedicated to establishing the infrastructure. Number two, governance is a very important component because this is all about the flow of information between different applications, standardisation on different interfaces, and establishing standards for information delivery and the apps that you will be using. These are the main components that are required for an EAI infrastructure platform to be successful,” says Kilani.
“Enterprises sometimes seek to undertake enterprise-wide adoption of EAI without getting the necessary buy-ins from all the stakeholders. This creates hurdles in breaking the application silos and different application owners work against establishing a common integration platform. This challenge can be remedied by establishing a successful pilot project and using it to seek alignment with the key stakeholders across the enterprise before going for an enterprise-wide deployment,” Vinnikota points out.
Regional organisations that are beginning to consider EAI would be well off keeping the above points in mind. According to Kilani, many of the larger enterprises are already facilitating the presence of most necessary elements before starting on EAI.
“ Today EAI is not a novelty any more. It has been around for more than 10 to 12 years, people have done it multiple times and there are best practices which people now understand how critical and important it is. Regional firms that embark on EAI can delve into the rich platform sets that have been devised by well-established vendors like IBM. In fact, they should avoid trying to re-invent the wheel and use the standards and best practices that have already been developed,” says Kilani.
Even after EAI has become successfully functional in an organisation, it still has to be managed right in order to gain continued benefit from it.
“The high failure rate for EAI projects also stem from the lack of governance and lack of overall strategy for EAI across the board. Secondly, it is also because of the lack of skills or the non-availability of skills. To counter these, enterprises should keep the strategy simple, use what has been available out there, and make integration as easy as possible,” says Kilani.
The bottomline
As the number of applications grow among regional enterprises, the need for EAI will be increasingly felt in order to derive strategic value out of these apps. With this need will rise the necessity of improving the success rate of projects.
“Ensuring success of an EAI project boils down to three things: appropriate business justification, correct processes and people, and an EAI platform that promotes reuse as well as flexibility. As mentioned earlier, having the buy-ins from the right business stakeholders ensures that the ROI from EAI projects is recognized even when it is hidden in the technology layers. Similarly, establishing and following best practices across developers, operations managers, and architects ensures that EAI projects start and end as expected delivering the right business value. For all the above to happen without unnecessary delays and without a huge learning curve for the people involved, it is important to have a technology platform that supports heterogeneous technologies in an intuitive and scalable manner,” says Vinnikota.
Like any technology investment, though, there is no magic formula to ensure EAI success. Every organisation will have to find its own ground zero for EAI and, in the process, will have to build up the level of skills available in the region via mistakes committed and lessons learned. If this process continues, at the end of two years, we will most likely see the region become a reference point for the study of beneficial EAI projects. If it does not, then we are unlikely to see a big spurt in demand in the regional EAI market.
What is EAI?
Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) involves the combined use of solutions and structural principles in order to link sets of backend enterprise applications. EAI essentially involves middleware that enables integration of systems and apps across an organisation.Typically, most heavy enterprise-wide apps (such as CRM and HRMS) are unable to communicate directly with each other, creating information silos, inefficient communication and data duplication, which in turn hamper business productivity.
EAI is the process of linking such applications in order to simplify and automate business processes. In the words of the Gartner Group, EAI is the “unrestricted sharing of data and business processes among any connected application or data sources in the enterprise.”
Tips and tricks to approach EAI
  1. Implementing EAI requires that someone thoroughly understand the business processes in the enterprise. It is only by using this information that the degree of integration necessary to optimize those business processes can be determined
  2. Not all organisations are equal. For this reason, some organizations will benefit more than others from EAI. While some organizations clearly demand an EAI initiative, others might find almost no value in implementing EAI within their enterprises
  3. In order to evaluate the value of EAI to your enterprise, you must establish a set of measures that define success for your organisation. This can be accomplished by examining and measuring the current state of the enterprise. With this baseline, consider your goals and the amount of effort that will be required for you to realise them
  4. Draw liberally from established standards and best practices. Research EAI platforms well and conduct pilots in order to make the right solution choice for your organisation
  5. Get your buy-in from all the stakeholders involved. Be ready to make minor mistakes but ensure that you are as prepared to face as is possible in your specific organisational setup