|Integration Means Getting in Sync|
you want to integrate with partners, you'll need to get your own enterprise
in sync first. Enterprise application integration is the way.|
|By Talila Baron|
If doing e-business were as simple as sharing data
with just one other company, it wouldn't be a problem. But the reality is
that business relationships today are not one-to-one, they're many-to-many.
Moreover, many companies now realize that interenterprise integration (IEI)—communication
among partners' applications—must be an extension of enterprise application
integration (EAI), which links all of an enterprise's disparate technologies
and geographical locations.
analysts say that rather than implementing redundant IEI and EAI infrastructures,
forward-thinking companies will take full advantage of existing EAI processes
and technologies, augmenting them with customized IEI infrastructures where
EAI Is Increasingly Critical
According to the META Group,
EAI will provide the backbone for e-business initiatives through 2005, becoming
particularly critical in organizations focused on customer relationship management
(CRM) and supply-chain integration.
That's because EAI provides a
basis for organizations to create a seamless view of their enterprises for
suppliers and trading partners. It extends the boundaries of an enterprise
while hiding the complexities of a company's processes and systems; and it
lets companies take advantage of emerging industry standards that enable
"EAI and IEI are ways of solving familiar problems,"
says John Whitehead, business development manager for New Markets and Technologies
at Cisco Systems. "As one partners with more companies and tries to execute
transactions more quickly, one must automate systems and processes that can
scale to handle the complexity." To be competitive, says Whitehead, you need
a structured and integrated foundation that allows you to optimize operations.
EAI and E-Marketplaces
e-marketplaces play an important role in supply-chain management and electronic
procurement. These online communities bring together groups of buyers and
suppliers in a secure environment. By managing the flow of information and
necessary resources, they can get goods produced and delivered within a certain
time frame while meeting exacting customer specifications.
But getting the most out of e-marketplaces means first implementing EAI, says Brad Sills, strategic alliance manager with Ariba, a business-to-business e-commerce platform and network services provider. Ariba has recently announced partnerships with webMethods and Tibco Software—the two companies will provide EAI for Ariba's customers.
has a major selling point because it enables the aggregation of geographically
and technologically fragmented business units to consolidate internal systems
and therefore transactions," Sills says. "Businesses can achieve greater
buying power by combining the whole enterprise under one system—that is,
many buyers working together to get the best prices. Moreover, it enables
networked applications like Ariba's to reach a company's entire range of
trading partners, including small to medium-sized suppliers."
EAI is critical, Sills says, because it also enables key interactions such as:
Order-fulfillment activities for multiple supply-chain constituents—from
order entry and confirmation to scheduling and production—as well as packaging,
delivery, and payment
Product life-cycle management throughout the supply chain, including prototyping,
development, upgrades, and end-of-life management
Post-sales customer support, including installation, repair services, spare parts provisioning, and version upgrades
the strengths of EAI to facilitate IEI also has major advantages, Whitehead
says. This approach—which allows an organization to reuse integration processes
for multiple projects—translates into faster inventory turns throughout the
supply chain, which result in:
Lower carrying costs
Faster product delivery, made possible by electronic procurement applications
that rapidly spread order information throughout the supply chain
Increased competitiveness through shorter engineering-to-production cycle times
More reliable planning and forecasting through improved information access
The Complexities of Communication
many companies, finding a consistent way in which to communicate with trading
partners is the big obstacle, Cisco's Whitehead says.
A typical problem,
for example, is the definition of a part number. The concept of a part means
one thing to a marketing person who identifies a product as a complete unit,
and something else to a worker on the shop floor who needs to know every
component part of that product. It could mean something else to a supplier
who is building those components, or a member of the support team who must
understand which versions of components were used in the product in the past.
"It's not possible to have a single vocabulary with which you talk
to all your suppliers and trading partners. You can't expect everything to
map to your single vocabulary. Ideally, you'll have multiple points of integration
into your system. So you need to have a single concept of how the different
vocabularies relate to each other," Whitehead says.
Creating a single
concept must involve the business owners within the company, Whitehead says.
"You need to understand your own processes and products before you can tell
your business partners how to interact with you. A lot of that information
may already be available, but it may not be written down or automated."
companies must find a solution that's easy to understand and easy to implement,
Ariba's Sills says. "You can only achieve ROI when you bring your whole supplier
community together. Suppliers are concerned with maintaining status quo and
not disrupting business, so you have to convince them that there's a value
to them. Part of that pitch is an easily understood solution, one that is
also easy to implement."
tactic for simplifying both EAI and IEI is to use third-party vendors. And
today, there is no shortage of software vendors offering ways to simplify
integration and communication.
Current IEI vendors, such as webMethods, Extricity, Netfish, IPNet, and Cyclone, are not considered competitors to EAI vendors, such as Neon/IBM, STC, Mercator, Tibco, and Vitria.
META Group anticipates that during 2001, IEI and EAI vendors will enter a
period of intense competition. The group predicts that IEI vendors will attempt
to strengthen back-end application integration capabilities through partnering
and alliances, and EAI vendors will strengthen interenterprise transport,
partner management, and security capabilities through partnering, acquisition,
and internal development. As a result, META expects that by 2003, the distinction
between IEI and EAI will have largely disappeared—and the recent acquisition
of EAI vendor Active Software by IEI vendor webMethods indicates that the
distinction is already starting to become fuzzy.
of EAI and other middleware components have extended their capabilities beyond
company walls to address business-to-business integration needs, including
for e-marketplaces. For example, vendors such as Tibco, Extricity, and Vitria
now specialize in helping disparate systems talk to one another, so that
in-house IT personnel don't have to build these connections from scratch.
the future, maintaining a set of open standards will be important to easing
the integration process. For example, the Extensible Markup Language (XML)
is a data-description language that gives trading partners a standard way
to interpret and exchange data—assuming they use the same data definitions
and schemas. Although great strides have been made in developing e-commerce
transaction standards thanks to the Electronic Business XML (ebXML) initiative and the Rosetta Net Consortium, uniform standards haven't been widely adopted yet.
March 1, 2001
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