eGovernance in India

Improving eGovernance in INDIA

Strategies For IT Integration

Posted by egovindia on July 29, 2006

Strategies For IT Integration
With rapid technology innovation, IT infrastructures often end up becoming a ”melting pot” of different technologies, platforms and architectures. CIOs and CTOs are faced with a new challenge of developing a strategy for IT integration within the organization.

7/26/2006

The fact that IT has become essential to many organizations is nothing new. Indeed, over the years, many large organizations have built up a diverse portfolio of IT systems that include packaged applications (such as SAP R/3, Siebel and Peoplesoft), legacy systems (often based on older mainframe technology), custom bespoke systems and database management systems (such as Oracle and MS SQL Server). With rapid technology innovation, such IT portfolios often end up becoming a ‘melting pot’ of different technologies, platforms and architectures.

With the need to remain competitive, many organizations are compelled to involve themselves in new business initiatives such as e-business, customer relationship management (CRM) and supply-chain management, to name a few. These new business initiatives all share one important characteristic: they rely on the integration of IT systems.

In the case of e-business, for example, websites must be integrated with back-end IT systems, and in the case of CRM, customer information must be integrated from a variety of other IT systems. Notably, the integration of IT systems is just as relevant to public-sector organizations as it is to commercial ones. For example, the realization of e-government requires the integration of IT systems used in government.

A hot area
IT integration has become something of a ‘hot’ topic. A study by research firm IDC in 2002, based on 1,350 interviews, indicated that more than 80 percent of CIOs and CTOs believed integration was either mandatory for addressing mission-critical activities or a key enabler for meeting business-critical needs.

Unfortunately, the ‘melting pot’ IT portfolio does not easily lend itself to the integration of IT systems. Two common barriers are technology incompatibility and the fact that certain IT systems (particularly older ones) were not originally designed for integration in the first place.

CIOs and CTOs are therefore faced with a new challenge of developing a strategy for IT integration within the organization. Importantly, a strategy for IT integration must be long-term and be able to ‘ride over’ the inevitable changes in the technology landscape.

Research suggests that there are four main strategies for IT integration, namely, consolidation, homogenization, communication and orchestration.

How To Ensure Seamless Integration

  • Consolidate: Merge the IT systems, which overlap in functionality or provide closely coupled functionality to remove redundancy
  • Homogenize: Replacing IT systems with an integrated suite of IT solutions typically provided by a single vendor
  • Communicate: Ensure that individual IT systems are able to interoperate with other IT systems, through platform-independent open standards
  • Orchestrate: Use an orchestration engine to manage the interaction between individual IT systems for transferring messages between the systems

What does this mean?
Consolidation involves the merging of IT systems, much in the same way that organizations may merge to leverage on greater levels of efficiency. Where an IT portfolio has IT systems, which overlap in functionality or provide closely coupled functionality, consolidation provides a means of removing redundancy. The result: leaner IT and less need to maintain many disparate IT systems.

Homogenization involves replacing IT systems with an integrated suite of IT solutions typically provided by a single vendor. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions are a prime example of a homogenization strategy, where an organization can purchase a core ERP solution and then select the modules (eg distribution, personnel, marketing, sales) it requires to run its business. One drawback with this strategy, however, is that it is often the case that an organization needs to change its business processes to fit the IT solution rather than vice-versa.

Communication involves ensuring that individual IT systems are able to interoperate with other IT systems. This means that IT systems are built in such a way that they expose their functionality through platform-independent ‘open’ standards such as web-services or Enterprise Java Beans (EJB). While this can be achieved with newer IT systems, older legacy IT systems are more problematic and may need to be substantially re-engineered.

Orchestration involves the use of an orchestration engine to manage the interaction between individual IT systems. The individual IT systems are ‘hooked up’ to the orchestration engine which then serves as a broker for transferring messages between the IT systems. The orchestration tools provided by vendors such as TIBCO, SeeBeyond and WebMethods support such an approach.

The choice over which IT integration strategy to use depends upon several factors. These includes the size and diversity of the organization’s IT portfolio, it’s current and future integration needs, the fluidity of its business processes, and the level of IT maturity within the organization. Most important for CIOs and CTOs however is that they are able to align the IT integration strategy with the organization’s business strategy, and this in turn should ensure that they receive a high level of support from the top management.

Dr Wing Lam
The author is Director, MISM Program and Associate Professor at Universitas 21 Global and can be contacted at hlange@u21global.com

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One Response to “Strategies For IT Integration”

  1. Phil Simon said

    Good post. I agree with the points made in “How to Ensure Seamless Integration” but the human factor often muddies things, as I’m sure you’d agree. As for legacy systems, “substantial reengineering” is a euphemism. I’d argue that many need to be blown up altogether and replaced with more contemporary equivalents. While I’m hardly a programmer, from what I do know, them amount of rework required on making a 30 year old legacy system “contemporary” is probably cost-prohibitive. In these instances, a newer, SOA-based system would probably be cheaper and easier to implement.

    I’ve always liked the house analogy when it comes to systems. In this case, it
    s easier to demolish the foundation than to convert a ranch to a duplex.

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