Application integration may hold much more benefit than most Java development shops realize. The TheServerside.com Readership Survey 2011 has revealed that only 20% of surveyed IT professionals say their business plans to focus significant resources on application integration during the coming year.
A full 70% of respondents surveyed said they are planning to focus on system and software design and architecture within the next 12 months. A combined 73% of coding work is going to be done building new solutions from scratch or customizing off-the-shelf solutions. But apparently only 20% of these new solutions are planned to be integrated into existing software architecture.
These results are surprising, given the benefits that could be realized from better integration. Let’s take a look at what eight out of 10 businesses might be missing out on and why enterprise application integration is a low priority or a difficult goal for some companies.
Benefits of application integration
Whether you’re talking about traditional enterprise applications or brand new Web applications, integration creates greater efficiency and sets the stage for future expansion. Here are some of the benefits you can expect to gain from application integration:
- More application processes can be automated, reserving IT and other business labor resources for strategic activities instead of routine maintenance tasks.
- Interrelated applications can be revamped during the integration stage to be scalable and stable so they do not create bottlenecks when rapid expansion in workload capability is required.
- Better customer service can be achieved since all data necessary for CRM is accessible via a single access point without delay.
- Processes can more readily make the transition from internal to online to mobile if the apps are integrated properly – aiding the change to a self-service model that today’s customers crave.
- Workflows can be streamlined or modified as needed to promote better efficiency across all areas of business – both inside and outside of IT.
- Data can be updated accurately in real-time (or close enough) across all systems, increasing the speed of business processes and reducing errors.
- An agile environment can be created that supports more rapid development of new products, providing an edge over the competition.
- Future business applications may be easier to develop and implement once a structure designed for integration is in place for new apps to be slotted into.
Barriers to application integration
Lack of stakeholder buy-in is likely an important factor that keeps application integration from happening. The process of making existing applications work better together isn’t nearly as glamorous as designing or developing new applications.
You don’t get to say "Here’s something we’re creating that will revolutionize our business." Instead, you have to make a case for how integration will create savings here and there and how these small savings add up over the long run.
You also have to admit that it’s going to cost money now to save money over the long term. In order to collect and present this data, it may be necessary to admit that the applications in question should have been designed in an integrated manner from the start. This important step may have been skipped originally for a number of reasons.
- Stakeholders gave in to the desire to save money up front.
- The IT team made some poor planning or design decisions.
- Different business decision makers were involved in giving the green light on different applications, which led to chaos.
- Various applications were sourced from different vendors - using different operating systems, languages or data formats and stifling interoperability.
- The applications were developed and implemented in a legacy system that silos everything instead of being based on a service-oriented architecture (SOA) and deployed in a more agile environment.
- Previous attempts to integrate using point-to-point connections proved too complex, or more modern hub and spoke enterprise application integration (EAI) created a single point of failure leading to unacceptable bottlenecks.
These last two issues can especially critical in preventing integration. If outdated and needlessly complicated solutions have been tried without success, you might look into enterprise service bus (ESB) architectures for application integration instead. The ESB approach is designed to be SOA friendly, scalable, distributable, customizable, and easy to expand or adopt on an incremental basis as-needed.
The bottom line is this: When IT must expend significant resources optimizing existing applications, this can seem like an admission of failure – and finger pointing is sure to follow. However, it’s important to get beyond the questions of who is to blame and focus on how to ensure better performance going forward. It’s never too late to integrate!