The Integration Effect

Integration is more than software development; the smartest companies use it to influence other business processes.

John Soat, Contributor

March 4, 2005

3 Min Read

Guidant set up its Integration Competency Center 3-1/2 years ago. The company had turned over its E-commerce activities to an online marketplace, and in order to bring that work in-house, the company had to get savvy about integration, and fast. "We understood we needed various skill sets," Sheehy says, such as "architect, business analysts, project lead, [and] technical developers to work together on projects."

By Sheehy's measure, the integration work, and the competency center, have met with great success. "We connect with over 26 systems internal to Guidant," he says. The integration team is a virtual hub of development, a "one-stop-shop" for Web-services work and the use and reuse of messaging systems. The company has "several hundred thousand dollars a month" coming in through the E-commerce channels and is able to let engineers and doctors look at information in real time to make adjustments to reduce the time a clinical trial will take. Next up: expanding Guidant's integration efforts with external partners.

Video-game manufacturer Electronic Arts Inc. has expanded the responsibilities of its Integration Competency Center to include areas outside of--but directly affected by--integration, says Tom Cullen, senior director of worldwide application architecture. "We do a lot of business-process management," he says.

The competency center is working on supply-chain integration, getting its ERP system to talk with warehouse-management systems. It also is developing a "dashboard" system for analyzing the flow of transactions and presenting that to upper management in a graphical manner. As part of that effort, it's examining the various workflow systems in the company. "The ICC is more than just integration development," Cullen says. "It's also responsible for architecture development and workflow development."

Right now, Cullen has seven members in the center but is looking to expand that this year, mainly because of demand. "As you standardize how you do things, everyone's in line to use it," he says.

One problem with trying to leverage the lessons of integration is that most companies do the work in a vacuum. The Integration Consortium is trying to open up the integration process by making integration experiences and expertise available to a wide audience.

Customers understand the value that integration adds, Michael Kuhbock says.

"Our customers and contributors understand the value proposition around integration," says Michael Kuhbock, co-chairman and founder of the Integration Consortium. Kuhbock, a consultant, founded the consortium in 2001 to establish a "virtual collaboration platform" for users, vendors, standards groups, and academics to interact. "What we're trying to do as a global body is bridge the gap of communication" that separates companies, Kuhbock says. "One of the biggest challenges right now in the industry is ignorance."

The Integration Consortium has about 100 active members; dues are paid on a sliding scale for vendors, depending on size, and a flat fee for users. The consortium offers tips from experts, virtual meetings, and frameworks and methodologies for integration projects.

Consortium members see it not only as a meeting of minds but as a repository of knowledge. Johnson & Johnson recently contributed about $2 million worth of intellectual property related to integration, such as plans and practices, Kuhbock says. "We have to build a common denominator [of integration expertise] that everyone can take advantage of," he says.

Integration expertise is a byproduct of hard-knock experience, as most companies find out. The smart companies turn that expertise and hard-won experience into institutional advantages.

Illustration by Arthur Phillips/Verr

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