The business side of enterprise integration

The Integration Consortium (IC) is taking the lead in cutting through the white noise generated by enterprise integration vendors.

The Calgary-based organization is a not-for-profit, non-partisan global industry body dedicated to influencing the direction of the integration industry by focusing on actual business needs instead of vendors’ sales targets. Its mission is to introduce rigor and discipline to this problematic area by establishing an internationally agreed body of knowledge comprising standards, guidelines, best practices and so on.

“We are the United Nations of integration,” said Michael Kuhbock, founder and chairman of the IC. “We’re not mandated by any major technology vendors with their initiatives. We want to be a safe harbour for all stakeholders.”

Founded in Canada in 2001, the IC has over 250 member companies across North America and Europe, including major U.S.-based corporations such as Bank of America, Johnson & Johnson, Staples and Best Buy.

The IC’s guiding principle is that enterprise integration is a business rather than a technology problem, and that a forum to get the truth out about integration strategies that actually work is urgently needed. All manner of technology giants are jumping on the integration bandwagon, explained Kuhbock. IBM, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft are rebranding their products and services, and now say they are integration vendors. But these are essentially marketing efforts, he said — SAP is primarily an ERP vendor, Oracle a database vendor, and so on. None focus exclusively on integration, and many develop their own terminology to describe generic products.

“The challenge we face in the industry is that the marketing giants want to create differentiation for their products. They’ll create an adapter and call it something else. The market is flooded with different terminology, all meaning the same thing,” he said.

The issue goes well beyond semantics. Lack of integration is costing business big bucks. Case in point: Inadequate software interoperability cost the building sector US $15.8 billion in lost efficiencies, according to a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

To introduce order to integration chaos, the IC is developing an enterprise integration body of knowledge, said Stephane Gagnon, professor of information systems management at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Gagnon is the chair of the IC’s academic advisory board, and is involved in coordinating academic contributions of studies, white papers, and research contributions.

The IC plans to introduce an enterprise integration certification process over the next two years, explained Gagnon. This will likely evolve in the same way that information security certification did. The first domino that needs to fall is developing a body of knowledge, after which standards, frameworks and best practices can be derived. Once these are agreed, training and certification can be introduced to provide integration professionals with the evidence-based guidance they need.

The first version, a skeleton of the body of knowledge, will be completed this year, said Gagnon. The skeleton will be fleshed out with information over the next year or so, and once completed, the IC plans to deploy an online learning management system, with examinations that will lead to an integration professional designation.

The IC is also planning a Global Integration summit, to be held in Boston in 2006, said Peter Anadranistakis, chief partnership officer at Online Business Systems, a Winnipeg-based integration services provider and a member of the IC’s board of directors.

The conference’s broad theme is “Integration for Everyone” to reaffirm the IC’s business-centric, inclusive approach. About 250 CIOs are expected to attend the conference, mostly from end-user companies, said Anadranistakis.

CFOs and CROs are also starting to attend the IC’s conferences, reflecting concern about mastering integration in order to meet regulatory requirements and manage business risk.

The conference is funded by users, and presenters are mostly CIOs presenting case histories of their struggles with enterprise integration. “These types of peer-to-peer collaborations are increasingly seen as the best way to get to the truth about vendors’ offerings,” said Anadranistakis.

To further promote this type of candid exchange, the IC recently started up chapters in New York, Boston, and Calgary, and plans to set up chapters in Toronto and Edmonton shortly.

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