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Forrester: Business goals must drive integration strategy

Integrating apps in a way that meets business goals can be difficult. A business-oriented integration strategy is key, says Forrester's Randy Heffner.

Traditional application integration keeps data and transactions in sync across separate applications. It connects...

across application silos to meet technical requirements, but it does little to unify those silos to work toward a common business outcome. As a result, organizations may struggle to integrate apps in a way that helps the business meet its core goals.

One solution, according to Forrester Research Inc. Vice President and Principal Analyst Randy Heffner, is to identify key business initiatives and their business design focal points. Once identified, those focal points -- such as important business processes, user roles and business transactions -- can serve as the centers of design points for integration, Heffner said.

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This strategy, called digital business design, flips the application integration paradigm on its head: Instead of business users and processes adapting to application silos, it's the other way around.

"Historically, the center of the [integration] focus has been on the silos, on connecting them behind the scenes," Heffner explained. "This is about re-centering the design so that you're focused on the design of your business, which then gives you perspective on the best way to integrate applications to bring them together."

Depending on an organization's main goals, business design focal points will vary. For example, a company that's pursuing an API management strategy may focus on a business transaction design point. On the other hand, an organization dealing with partner portals may require a strong business process design point.

This is about re-centering [integration] design so that you're focused on the design of your business.

Randy Heffner,
vice president and principal analyst, Forrester Research

SOA, BPM and business capabilities

After identifying business design focal points, enterprise architects should use business-oriented integration technologies to implement the overarching business design strategy, Heffner said. He advised the following:

  1. Build SOA business services. "SOA business services give enterprise architects building blocks to work with, rather than technology building blocks," Heffner said. This helps keep the focus of integration on specific business design points and away from technical silos.
  2. Use BPM to optimize business design points. Methods like event processing, embedded analytics and collaboration add flexibility to processes, user roles and transactions, Heffner explained.
  3. Adopt a business capabilities architecture mindset. "Business capabilities architecture allows you to think in terms of [using] the same design models -- from the head of business strategy, to the setting of major corporate objectives … and down through implementing them in software," Heffner said. "Business architecture gives a stronger perspective from a higher level about what the business design is."

Heffner cautioned against viewing SOA, BPM and business capabilities architecture as siloed technologies. Instead, he said, organizations should treat them as a single, business-oriented approach to integration.

"Where previously you had a BPM center of excellence and an SOA center of excellence, and a business rules center of excellence, I would want to see a business design center of excellence to bring them all together," he said. "Then, if you only need one [of the technologies], just use that piece of the whole."

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Has your company considered a business-oriented integration strategy, like digital business design?