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2/21/2003
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Business Technology: A Most-Important Jigsaw Puzzle

Let me take a wild guess: been hearing the term "integration" about 20 times per day lately? Or 20 times per hour? Is each mention starting to give you that spiking sensation just inside your right armpit that makes you wonder whether you're having a seizure or whether you have some brooding, malevolent instincts inside you that are about to break through? More lyrically, this explosion of integration issues makes me think of an old song by Eric Burdon and the Animals (now THERE was a name for a rock group) in which Eric supplicated, "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good//Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood."

I would venture a guess that in today's business-technology world, "integration" is about as misunderstood as "Web services" was a year ago. Not unwanted, not without validity, not without great potential, but VERY misunderstood. Let me see if I can put this in context.

Starting in the mid-and late 1980s, "systems integration" became everyone's goal because it could make all these different things work together. Then came application integration--you probably know it by its more detailed name, EAI--and everybody wanted that because it made all the stuff talk to each other. Following closely after that was data integration, because what value do you gain in making the apps get along if the data can't carry the same tune? And realizing that if integration's good for systems and applications and data then it must also be good for information, a number of companies are beginning to tout the benefits of information integration--and surely they're right (for the latest perspective on this dynamic new area, see Rick Whiting's story on enterprise information integration on p. 38). But the very latest chapter in the integration situation comes not in carbon and silicon and code, but rather in human behavior: business-process optimization. (InformationWeek's very wonderful monthly magazine for strategy and execution, Optimize, devoted its February issue to this fascinating topic: optimizemag.com.)

So here you are, juggling global security-synchronization projects--dare I say "security integration"?--and putting out fires and racing to balance the urgency of helping drive new revenue streams while controlling the ever-growing Monster of the Legacy Pit and making everything move faster, smarter, cheaper, securer, and slicker, and now comes another item on the @#$%@#$% To-Do List: integrate it all. And make danged sure it's real time and seamless and transparent and robust and bulletproof and totally open and scalable. And above all else, under budget.

Fair? Hell, no. But nothing these days is fair, and yet you folks somehow find ways every hour and every day and every week to surmount that. I think the key point with the Integration Gorgon is to see it for what it is: not a series of separate and detached bogeymen out to terrorize you, but a highly complex and potentially dangerous condition that can be beaten into gentle submission through the application of comprehensive analysis, careful planning, forward thinking, and highly inclusive discussions, all followed by brisk action. Would it be goofy to say that the solution to integration is, well, integration? That separate projects aimed at systems integration and apps integration and data integration and business-process integration will probably lead inescapably to another and equally painful round of projects all prominently including "integration" in their titles?

So perhaps 2003 will be known as the year in which business technologists started to integrate the all-important projects of integration. And perhaps we can help: our March 17 issue will be devoted to this important topic. Our hope is to have intentions that not only are good but also clearly understood.

Bob Evans
Editor in Chief
bevans@cmp.com


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Bob Evans's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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