Enterprises of all sizes have embarked on application integration efforts. Gartner's best practices for application integration are based on knowledge gained "in the trenches."
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A variety of drivers have long motivated enterprises to embark on application integration. Small enterprises are responding to demands from large customers that all business be conducted electronically. Large enterprises are responding to business imperatives to make their businesses faster, better and cheaper. Since 1996, large enterprises have initiated efforts to improve data quality. The adoption of application integration technology has moved from leading edge to mainstream. Gartner predicts that, by 2003, more than a third of large enterprises will have two or more disparate integration brokers in production.
As more and more enterprises gain experience in integrating applications, a substantial body of knowledge on best practices has emerged. In this edition of the Application Integration and Middleware Spotlight, we present a variety of application integration best practices.
Start Off Right: Selecting Your Integration Broker
After strategy development, the first step in the application integration process is selecting an integration broker. Too often, an enterprise focuses on a subset of criteria. These might include a strategic relationship with the vendor, the cost of the product, and demonstrations by well-practiced sales support engineers. In two related pieces of research, “Integration Broker Selection: Vendor-Related Criteria” and “Integration Broker Selection: Technical Criteria,” I lay out integration broker vendor selection criteria that can be successfully used as a starting point for vendor review or as elements of a request for proposal.
Organization Is Crucial
Having the right IS organization is more important than having the right technology. Most successful integration projects during the next five years will involve a new IS function: the central integration competency center. This unit is responsible for bringing consistency to interface development, deployment and maintenance within an enterprise. A key role within the competency center is that of enterprise architect. In “Best Practices for Selecting Enterprise Architects,” Greta James examines the enterprise architect's responsibilities and the skill sets that the job requires.
Doing Data Right
Application integration is unlike application development. Instead of developing and assembling a set of components to create an application, application integration assembles independent applications to create a system. As a consequence, the specifications required are more extensive than those used in a typical software development project. Jim Sinur, in “Integration Specifications: Good, Better, Best” , provides an overview of useful specification types, together with recommended content.
Data consistency integration seeks to create a consistent and coherent set of information across enterprise applications. However, data coherency is not established solely through application integration; it requires explicit data stewardship practices. In “Ten Best Practices for Data Stewardship Success,” Ted Friedman defines data stewardship best practices that apply to all stewardship activities, including those used for application integration.
Pulling It All Together: Composite Application Integration
Data consistency and multistep process integration focus on creating a system of applications. Composite application integration creates an application that has an architecture that contains components whose functionality may be part of independent applications. In “Best Practices for Deploying Web Services via Integration,” Massimo Pezzini provides best practices for assembling composite applications using a specialized type of component — a Web service.
Gartner's research on application integration best practices is ongoing. Research has been and will continue to be published (for example, see "Best Practices: Managing Application Integration Metadata" ). We strongly recommend that enterprises take advantage of the insights in these pieces of research, because they consider ways to establish practices that address present needs and prepare for future application integration activities.
"Integration Broker Selection: Vendor-Related Criteria" — Vendor hype should not guide integration broker selection. By Jess Thompson
"Integration Broker Selection: Technical Criteria" — A clearly weighted set of technical criteria can avoid future integration problems. By Jess Thompson
"Best Practices for Selecting Enterprise Architects" — A good enterprise architect needs business and behavioral skills, not just technical skills. By Greta James
"Integration Specifications: Good, Better, Best" — You should use integration specifications as system integrators do. By Jim Sinur
"Ten Best Practices for Data Stewardship Success" — Data "stewards" can help organize an effective data quality improvement program. By Ted Friedman
"Best Practices for Deploying Web Services via Integration" — Users should adopt an incremental, service-oriented approach to developing composite Web services. By Massimo Pezzini