Once you've gotten past the first stage, what's next? We all know that EAI
and integration tools started out by focusing on connectivity-getting application
A to talk to application B, or getting data from system A into system B. As
integration vendors have begun rejuvenating their product lines over the past
few years and extending them into business process modeling, business activity
monitoring, and other areas, some businesses are wondering what the benefits
really are of these new capabilities. Are they bells and whistles or a core
part of future systems?
We'll explore the business process modeling aspect in another column but, in
the meantime, it turns out that many of the companies I've been speaking with
believe that business activity monitoring is a crucial strategic component of
their integration plans. Connecting systems and exchanging data is stage one,
abstracting those connections and modeling the business process is often stage
two, and monitoring those processes and using status or alert information from
an integration process to drive business decision making is often stage three.
But it's this stage that really turns a technical integration platform
into a strategic business tool.
In fact some firms, such as Deloitte & Touche, are developing key performance
metrics that are customized by industry, such as life sciences or consumer packaged
goods. For example, a key indicator might be inventory turns or days sales outstanding.
Being able to consolidate information from various sources, coordinate information
from an on-going business process and measure and report it as a key performance
metric helps drive the business value of integration platforms. CEOs, CFOs,
and almost all business managers want to see where they're at every day-or every
hour, depending on the industry and product line. There's incredible value in
having knowledge about your business-if your systems aren't giving you accurate
information, you're not going to be making good decisions.
As a result, an important aspect of integration platforms will be the business
intelligence/business activity monitoring/key performance indicators-type of
functionality. Integration tools that have strong support for a "daily
close" type concept will have the upper hand in the marketplace within
three years, as the basic application-to-application connectivity, transformation,
and delivery functionality is overshadowed by business process centric integration
approaches and the need for increased activity monitoring and performance/process
reporting that can help business managers make profitable and timely decisions.
Without the ability to influence the business decision-making process, integration
platforms are simply utilities-much like the old data conversion programs for
batch converting from dBASE format to Microsoft Access.