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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.


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