Integrating Enterprise Information: Myth or Reality?

EII: Unproven technology or critical to enterprise goals?

Announcements of new types of enterprise software usually elicit predictable reactions from IT managers and industry pundits. Whatever it claims to do, they'll say, can't be done. This negativity has three sources. First, many software vendors ship software that's not quite ready for enterprise use. Second, people mistrust any software not tested personally. Third, humans are naturally averse to change. To overcome these biases, champions of new-technology deployments must develop clear, convincing business cases.

Enterprise Information Integration (EII) has faced the "unproven-technology" bias over the past few years. But skepticism about EII is misguided, and a clearer understanding of it can help eliminate the fear, uncertainty and doubt that may be feeding IT's resistance.

Information systems exist, of course, to provide information to users. As a result, the top priority of IT management is often to "keep the lights on"—supporting core functions and the most important projects. The bulk of spending often goes simply to providing faster and cheaper access to information. Large-scale investments in systems such as enterprise resource planning also gobble up available resources.

CIOs today are looking beyond the basics and are beginning to prioritize analytics and business intelligence (BI) applications. But investment in BI doesn't directly address information integration across and beyond the enterprise. In part, that's because many information architectures are so rigid and so controlled by existing systems that EII has appeared daunting, expensive and downright scary.

But EII helps achieve critical enterprise goals such as improving productivity, increasing profitability and meeting compliance demands. From a business perspective, EII is straightforward. It gives business users on-demand access to information from disparate sources—integrating and presenting information as a seamless whole. Already accessible via separate applications, portals and services, these information pools could include customer or financial information; data warehouse or BI data; Internet, news service or information portal content; even documents from file servers or document management systems. Integrating and simplifying information presentation can save time and tap the value in supporting critical business decisions.

From a technology perspective, EII has grown out of federated data query, data modeling, multidimensional databases and database optimization. EII integrates these technologies in a common architecture that models information and maps it to the logical data sources. The technology provides caching and load balancing of queries that can be integrated into your enterprise architecture. Once this is done, business users then can query dynamically without worrying about the data's source.

Underscoring EII's growing importance, BI vendor Actuate acquired integration developer Nimble Technology, and IBM reformed its software division and acquired Ascential Software to focus on the larger business aspects of information integration. In addition, Informatica and Cognos have formed strategic OEM partnerships with EII provider Composite Software. Vendors including Business Objects, Hyperion and MicroStrategy will be pressured to add integration capabilities through acquisitions or OEM deals in the coming year. EII purveyors including Attunity, Certive and MetaMatrix are likely to be acquisition targets.

However they do it, BI, application server and other application providers must move quickly to position themselves as EII providers. In a related drive, several vendors are providing better master data management or data quality capabilities to maximize the accuracy of the information; for example, Silver Creek Systems has introduced intelligent data matching and translation functions that deliver improved data quality using algorithms and rules.

In today's business environment, setting enterprise IT priorities is a challenge. Deciding where to place scarce IT resources including time, people and money often is more political than rational. Fortunately, there's still time to make incremental investments in harnessing the information within your enterprise, but you'll have to make the business case and lead the way toward enlightened information integration using EII.

Mark Smith is CEO and Senior Vice President of Research at Ventana Research. Write to him at [email protected]