Application integration will be the number one priority for IT managers seeking a competitive e-business advantage over the next five years, according to market analysts Gartner Group.
This is because large organizations need to produce strategies that allow for faster and more effective cooperation between an increasing numbers of business groups and people.
Ross Altman, application integration and security vice-president at Gartner in Australia, said internal business processes in enterprises are undergoing a radical change due to Internet-driven technological advances, which in turn is restructuring the economy.
In order to support new and more complex business processes which extend beyond the boundaries of the enterprise to involve business partners, Altman said the corporate IT department must focus on connecting applications that once operated independently.
Moreover, many companies still depend on mainframe applications written in Cobol, RPG and other procedural languages to support many of the core business operation; some of these applications are over 20 years old.
While more than 90 per cent of typical IT work lies in choosing, installing, tailoring and maintaining packaged applications, Altman said the primary job of IT was no longer the development of new applications but integrating disparate existing systems.
Gartner said the ability to do this with agility is critical to gaining a competitive edge in the e-business space, as organizations need to be able to deal with the speed at which business is transacted.
The key to doing this is to deploy systems that are built to change rather than last, according to Gartner. It takes too long to build an entirely new system in response to each new business opportunity. So integrating middleware and the use of existing business logic in new ways are critical to dealing successfully with (e-business) challenges.
The industry analyst recommends that companies implement an Enterprise Nervous System (ENS) for successful application integration. Two elements to the ENS are integration technology and the information that the technology handles.
Altman said both require an enterprise-wide approach. “The resulting infrastructure allows applications, devices, business processes and business partners to be connected in a consistent fashion,” he said.
“The objective is a set of common message formats that are exchanged between applications, a middleware infrastructure to handle the various aspects of integration and a set of consistent interfaces into the ENS to support a range of application types.”
However, Greta James, Gartner Asia Pacific research director, said technology managers have a poor understanding and track record of documenting legacy applications, which only increases the risk associated with their re-use.
She said this is compounded by the monolithic nature of many of these systems with business functions tightly linked and poorly structured requiring more fixes.
“Many enterprises find it impossible to build a compelling business case to re-engineer their workhorse systems; Australian businesses are faring poorly when integrating old with new enterprise applications,” James said.
“The number that are doing it ‘right’ is very low; point-to-point interfaces are widespread with little sharing of messages or record formats, and scant consistency in the technologies used to link the applications.”
Gartner Group has Canadian offices in
Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa and Vancouver and can be reached at