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Forrester: Stress holistic, lean approaches for application integration

Different styles of integration can lead to islands of integration. Forrester's Ken Vollmer says lean and holistic methods, coupled with integration competency centers, can help.

Various types of application integration have grown up over the years, each with its own flavor. EDI, EAI, ETL, MDM, BPM, ESBs -- these and other integration practices each have their own adherents speaking their own languages and pursuing their own agendas. The result can be something of an oxymoron: islands of integration.

Lately, tool makers from the data integration side have improved their offerings on the application integration side and vice versa. Now that there is some convergence in integration tools capabilities, organizations are better able to take a more holistic approach to integration, one that can serve to reduce integration silos, said Ken Vollmer, principal analyst, Forrester.

In some cases, the tools provide useful automations that can speed integrations, indicated Vollmer, who spoke last week with SearchSOA.com. Together with colleague Noel Yuhanna, principal analyst, Forrester, Vollmer recently wrote about ESB, center of integration excellence, holistic, lean and other integration developments in a paper on ''Seven Top Integration Trends for 2011 to 2012.''

''Historically, different integration silos have been handled by separate groups -- separate groups with different tools," said Vollmer.

''EAI was a separate group with separate tools. EDI was a separate group with separate tools. BPM was a separate group with separate tools," he said.

"The point of holistic integration is that the tool integration capability is expanding significantly, allowing enterprises to address common integration requirements across all of those silos,'' said Vollmer.

"It does not mean you are going to throw out all of the tools you have, it just means that, going forward, when you go to upgrade, you can work with a smaller collection of vendors and a smaller selection of tools, and get even better functionality," he continued.

Successful organizations can build on the ongoing cross-breeding of integration approaches by aligning their in-house integration competency centers with a holistic approach to integration. People from different integration disciplines should get together to plan a strategy and to ensure that integration tools can be used where possible, according to Vollmer.

"There should be regular planning sessions that include representatives of all the [integration] silos – and then they go off individually," he said. "But there should be some exchange of integration at the top."

Can integration competency centers be lean? Yes!

While some people see integration competency centers as a ''rich man's game,'' that may be changing. Although Vollmer agrees that such centers are most common in the larger enterprises, he sees such centers growing in use in mid-size firms.

And such integration competency centers need not be ponderous exercises. In Vollmer's view, integration competency centers can help implement agile, or lean integration.

Lean Manufacturing techniques made popular at car maker Toyota in the 1980s have set the stage for new approaches in various disciplines, including software development. Lean integration is on the rise, Vollmer and Yuhanna write in their report.  The trend is said to be enabled by tools like Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) and the Business Process Management Notation (BPMN) that automate repetitive integration tasks. Also an enabler: agile development techniques like Scrum that rely on iterative and incremental software development methodology.

''SOA plays a role in some cases – not all. Model driven architecture and Scrum play a role. Those techniques allow much easier automation of processes than does writing custom code. And they enable faster modification and change of the artifacts [of the integration] it brings together the silos of business applications, organizational processes and the data in a more effective way,'' said Vollmer.

These different parts then, in effect, are part of the blueprint an integration competency center can use.

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