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Almost any management initiative that leverages IT to support a new or enhanced business process will require some attention to the issue of application integration. Integration is the challenge of getting independently-developed application systems to work together, i.e., sharing data and achieving cooperation among various applications that may support different business units and run in different data centers or even in separate enterprises.



Integration was traditionally implemented as part of the application development project, using point-to-point links and conventional development languages and software tools. During the past seven years, however, a newer systematic approach to application integration has emerged, exploiting one or more of the following:

  • integration suites -- a type of system software that provides transformation and intelligent connectivity services, along with other related functions;
  • business process managers (BPM) -- a software engine tracks and controls the flow of composite applications or multistep business processes;
  • prebuilt adapters for connecting application systems into the integration infrastructure;
  • adapter development tools;
  • packaged integrating processes (PIPs) and packaged composite applications (PCAs) which incorporate prebuilt ("off the shelf") process flows and transformations for an end-to-end integration solution;
  • a central integration competency center -- a relatively new part of the IS organization that coordinates the development and operational activities associated with integration across multiple application projects and business units

This report provides a general framework for understanding the costs and benefits of systematic application integration that uses one or more of these feturees. We contrast systematic integration using purpose-built high level integration middleware tools to implementing the same set of applications and integration processes using traditional approaches to development.

Summary: The aspects of systematic integration listed above are independent decisions with separate benefits, i.e., an enterprise can choose to implement virtually any combination of them:

  • Broker payback depends mostly on the scope of the interface complexity, i.e., more complexity in transformation and routing logic indicates the opportunity for greater payback by using a broker.
  • BPM payback depends mostly on the nature of the business processes and the associated changes that are made outside of the IS department. Complex (with many steps, especially if executed by disparate business units), dynamic (fast changing) processes will achieve greater payback than simple stable processes.
  • A well-run integration competency center will have a positive payback all but the smallest scenarios, regardless of whether any commercial broker or BPM tools are used.

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