How to organize your agenda

Integration is a dilemma these days. On one hand, your CEO wants more ROI from the technology you already own, which means aggressive integration across the company a unified view of the customer, real-time supply chain visibility. You’ve heard it all before.

On the other hand, budgets are tight and everyone’s skeptical of big, boil-the-ocean projects. The more you try to bite off, the more dollars and political capital you’ll spend.

Given those restrictions, you’re going to need a set of organizing principles you can rally your whole team around. Consider the following suggestions a starter kit not the five commandments.

Get the leverage. If you’re completely new to integration, experimenting on a limited basis to get familiar with the technology (EAI, for example) makes sense. Otherwise, it’s time to bite the bullet and reach for the leverage that comes only from cross-enterprise integration. An executive at a global bank recently told me: “We needed a unified view of the customer and the ability to generate a single unified statement to win share of wallet in our business.” If you want to be competitive, leaving silos intact is probably not an option. Corollary to “get the leverage”: get the buy-in. Executive team sponsorship can be the pinnacle of integration.

Focus on business processes. The secret to getting those business processes moving seamlessly across your enterprise is near the top of the list making sure integration works on the level of business rules and data models, not just basic connectivity. In a portal implementation, for example, this means getting departments to agree on a consistent taxonomy so that you can expose a complete set of enterprise wide data. Use the 80/20 rule: Focus on your biggest existing systems investments (ERP, legacy systems) where high-level integration can unlock ROI quickly.

Insist on standards. While a unified companywide integration architecture would be nice (single messaging bus, single EAI vendor), what’s really important is a standards-based approach so that you can build on top of diverse systems to tie processes and workflow together across the company. Look at standards like the Java Message Service (JMS), the J2EE Connector Architecture (JCA) and XML/SOAP. Push your vendors hard on them. Also push your team to develop the necessary infrastructure to support both J2EE and Microsoft Corp. applications don’t hamstring your company’s managers from deploying best-of-breed solutions in the name of integration.

Be open to experiments. Hewitt Associates LLC based in Lincolnshire, Ill., a leading HR benefits outsourcing company, built a Web services interface to let its customers retrieve their employees’ 401(k) account status information in real-time. What Hewitt found was that this integration experiment sparked customer demand for tighter and more real-time integration in other areas. Web services experiments may look like science projects today, but they will grow into powerful competitive weapons quickly. And by the way, they can also be a quick and dirty way to get lightweight integration projects done inside the firewall.

Give your customers what they need to win. If you do business with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. or Dell Computer Corp., you’re probably already tightly integrated into their supply chain systems. If you don’t, guess what? The rest of the world is becoming more like them. Your integration roadmap must prioritize the needs and architectures of your key customers and partners. As real-time processes become more important, the ability to integrate easily and flexibly outside the firewall will affect your bottom line. And having the integration groundwork in place to provide seamless self-service customer experiences, as Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. or Cisco Systems Inc. does, will be equally important.

The point is that you need a set of principles championed by you to keep your organization focused and help navigate the integration obstacle course. Good luck, and may your cross-enterprise processes be seamless and scalable.

David L. Margulius is a San Francisco-based technology and marketing consultant. He can be reached at