Thursday, January 29, 2004

Vendor application integration tools are no silver bullet

Reader Les Phillips wrote me right after I posted my note yesterday on Oracle's new interest in providing an application integration capability for its applications suite. Les works for a large well-known company that shall remain unnamed, which also happens to be an Oracle client. Les finds the current selection of application integration tools something of a mixed bag.
Frank, I have been reading your Spectator for some time now and find it very informative .... I found your most recent entry about Oracle and integration interesting. Like many Oracle customers we have been asking for more integration interfaces into Oracle Applications for years. Moreover, acquisitions continue to dot our enterprise landscape making integration challenging.

Currently we are reviewing technology to help with our system integration projects. The majority of these tools portray themselves as Business Process Management (BPM) applications. They all have wiz-bang GUIs that build business processes by dragging and dropping process nodes. Of course, they gloss over business process complexity and integration complexity by providing the most basic examples (seller/buyer, ATM)

They all come with the common theme "so easy to use even a Business Analyst could use them!" This seems reminiscent of the past when CASE [Computer Aided Software Engineering] tools meant the end of coding. Most of these BPM tools are much too functional to clearly distinguish the functional process from the business process. The business process representation would be cluttered with transformations, data lookups, subsystem calls, and other things a business analyst would not care to see. This would not make life easier for business analysts.

OK, they [i.e. application integration tools] might not be BPM tools but maybe they provide ease of integration? One concern here is the long-term effects of using an integration framework. The up time may be quicker by allowing the developer to rapidly deploy an integrated piece of the process but at what cost? There has to be a gotcha in there somewhere.
I agree with Les that there is no silver bullet for application integration. Some problems are best addressed by an integration framework or "hub" as Oracle calls it. Other needs are best addressed simply by a custom "point-to-point" integration. In fact, in a post in August, 2002, I suggested some criteria for deciding which approach to take. Les agrees, when he also writes,
I like the vendor offerings [for application integration] but also the freedom of a home-grown approach. Somewhere between these paradigms must be just right. We currently have a system developed on one these enterprise application integration (EAI) products that is near impossible to upgrade without a total rewrite due to vendor changes in the framework architecture. Therefore, the longevity of these solutions could be as short as a point-to-point solution, though cost much more. I imagine it will be that way for many years as the standards for business process modeling get hashed out and the system providers offer better integration options...
Back on the subject of Oracle's Customer Data Hub--it's no doubt a good move on the part of Oracle, and it will be welcomed by many customers. Just don't expect it to solve all your integration problems.

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