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Weeding Out the Acronyms

Choose pragmatism over acronyms.

Something about middleware makes it premium mulch for growing acronyms. As if it weren't tough enough to comprehend the complexities of data, application or process integration, IT managers must sort through a jungle of past and present acronyms: EAI, ETL, MOM, BPI, MDM, ESB, EII, SOA—okay, I'll stop the torture. Could it be that companies will have better luck implementing new integration technology if they consciously avoid using these acronyms?

This occurred to me while taking in keynotes at the Informatica International User Conference in June. The company is frankly saddled with being a dominant provider of software for "ETL," which stands for data extraction, transformation and loading. This is one of the oldest acronyms—and thus, a term that makes it sound like Informatica is peddling old technology. There's nothing wrong with ETL; companies are ever more dependent on this activity for their data warehousing success. But since technology marketers, fired up by the competitive heat, introduce acronyms with hopes of obliterating those that preceded it, ETL—and the vendors that provide it—are supposed to be fading from memory.

Informatica CEO Sohaib Abbasi demonstrated Project Zeus, the R&D name for some pretty exciting technology that will address a range of data integration requirements—hardly just ETL. Gartner analysts Frank Buytendijk and Ted Friedman then offered a bouquet of insight and suggested—you guessed it—a new acronym. "Enterprise information management (EIM) is an umbrella term that covers the domains of EII, MDM and the rest," said Friedman. "It's the discipline of getting your hands around the data ... moving it seamlessly, on the fly ... putting it in the right context...." His words trailed off.

I guess we'll see if EIM takes root, but I can't help but wonder if Informatica and its customers might be better off without it. In this age of regulatory mandates, IT budgets strained by existing investments and business-driven pressure to justify all new technology, acronyms scare people.

"As a utopian concept, SOA is great, but you have to be careful about terminology," says Tom Fox, assistant VP and technology advisor at Wachovia, whom I spoke with about service-oriented architecture and composite applications for our cover story. "In an organization as large as ours, people have heard different things about SOA, some good and some bad. We're doing SOA but we just call it our 'integration strategy.'"

Fox views Web services as "not a radical departure, just a standardization and productivity enhancement" of what the company has been doing with IBM WebSphere and MQ Series for some time. "Web services enable us to homogenize the interface and move out of proprietary technology."

Wachovia is taking a similarly pragmatic approach to such buzzy concepts as establishing and enforcing a single definition of a customer through one enterprise metadata repository (or "canonical" data model). "Each service has information that it intrinsically needs," he says. "We don't have a common definition of a customer across every service. But we are reducing the number of definitions to a smaller, more practical number. Services apply the definition that makes sense."

Technology adoption is about evolution, not revolution, at least for the foreseeable future. It's time to bury our industry's penchant for coming up with the next killer acronym. IT needs to forget the jargon and focus precious brainpower on delivering results.

David Stodder is the Editorial Director and Editor in Chief of Intelligent Enterprise. Write to him at [email protected].