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EII: Information on Demand

Will enterprise information integration really displace traditional data warehousing, or just complement it?

How does EII differ from enterprise application integration? EAI and its emerging new generation, ESB, are "push" technologies. They use messaging and are geared for transactional application integration. EII is a "pull" technology: It supports SQL and other standard data access languages that send queries to the EII virtual data store. The EII engine then uses a federated approach to answer the query.

Customer data integration (CDI), exemplified by technology from newer vendors such as Siperian and Journee as well as from Oracle and other established providers, confuses matters a bit. CDI is also an on-demand (pull) solution and uses metadata and a model-driven approach to integration. Virtualization is also essential to CDI. Dig a little deeper ... and they still look awfully similar!

CDI and EII are essentially the same technology, packaged differently for their respective purposes. EII providers are pursuing demand for "middleware": that is, generic information integration. CDI focuses on customer-oriented applications, including marketing intelligence, call centers and other services, and other aspects of customer relationship management. There's no reason EII vendors couldn't refine their focus on integrating customer information or CDI vendors couldn't turn their attention to "product," "supplier" or other objects and develop a focused solution.

A final related field is reference, or "master," data management (RDM or MDM). IBM, Oracle, SAP and other information management vendors see this technology as a means to store, augment and consolidate structured and unstructured data from heterogeneous locations. RDM and MDM solutions ensure cross-system data consistency in much the same manner as EII — through a metadata layer, virtual views and federated querying. RDM and MDM are generally focused on product content management and cross-media catalog publishing and access via the Web.

RDM and MDM represent a specialized application of the broader EII approach. Some vendors, such as Razza, go further to make the approach easier by presenting meaningful interfaces to users, whereas EII generally operates behind the scenes as middleware.

EII is an emerging technology. No matter what shape it takes, the main driver is that coveted goal of a "single version of the truth." Whether the data is reference or transactional, EII's virtualization and metadata technologies let organizations create a single definition of data from disjointed and disparate information across the enterprise. This includes ERP, spreadsheet files, data marts and warehouses and Web services.

The single definition may be accessed and delivered through portals, dashboards, mobile devices and various applications. Mark Fulgham, executive director of worldwide strategic outsourcing at Hewlett-Packard Managed Services, says that EII helps his organization gain "nimble, operational, right-time insight into intraday business and service delivery functions." Fulgham is testing EII technology from Composite Software for both internal use and for a service for HP clients.

What if you're interested in implementing EII but already have one or more data warehouses, portals and dashboards in place and, understandably, little desire to disrupt this finely orchestrated data flow? "Take Action," offers some relevant advice.

Data Integration, Reloaded

The days of laissez-faire data and information integration are behind us. Spaghetti code buried in multiple applications won't do-nor will expensive, inflexible ETL and data warehousing implementations. The addition of unstructured information — content in the form of text, e-mail, images and more — will challenge standard operating procedures. Far from replacing data warehousing, EII's premise — data on demand, from any source to any destination — will be a critical addition to ETL and data warehousing efforts. The potential is enormous — even if end users never know how it was achieved.

Business management eyes are on BI and data warehousing. Demands for higher return on investment and reduced total cost of ownership have never been higher. Information integration is an important, strategic step toward greater competitive advantage. By efficiently sharing all forms of data, you can meet objectives such as improving customer and partner intelligence and creating self-service business processes.

IT hasn't yet delivered "The Matrix" vision, where all that users see of complex data access and sophisticated applications is the interface-the sophisticated appendage of an infrastructure supporting a cohesive and connected world. As it matures, however, EII might enable organizations to reach such an exalted stage.

Rajan Chandras is a principal consultant with the New York offices of CSC Consulting (www.csc.com). The opinions expressed here are his own. Write him at [email protected].