Enterprises need to rethink their fundamental approach to building applications if they want to be able to integrate those applications seamlessly and change the nature of that integration on the fly.
Neil Stokes, senior technical consultant with IBM Asia-Pacific, said instead of large, monolithic sets of business functions, applications will have to be modular and loosely coupled so that they can be "replugged" without any change in the business process.
Erik Elzerman, director of the IBM Software Group, Asian/South Asia, said the idea is to integrate to an independent middleware level, to decouple applications from the underlying infrastructure, instead of integrating vertically to the operating system. Both speakers were presenting their views at a recent conference and solutions fair centred on the theme of "on-demand" business.
Stokes noted that most integration is still business or platform-specific. He gave the example of integration that takes place within the banking sector or in an airline reservation system.
"What we lacked were broad industry-based standards that allowed any application to talk to another application," he said.
Today, however, the issue is on its way to being resolved. Standards such as TCP/IP (transmission control protocol/Internet protocol) and HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol), for example, address the need for common communications standards, while XML (extensible markup language) provides a common data interchange format.
Stokes believed business-to-business integration would take place through the application of standards, together with self-describing data and deployment directories.
Integration is one of the key attributes of the "on-demand" operational environment which, IBM said, was necessary if enterprises were to go fully down the e-business path and to realise the full potential of their IT investments.
Another attribute is that the systems have to be open. There are only two choices that organisations have, said Elzerman. One is that everyone uses the same technology, an approach which he described as "unrealistic".
Most organisations have too much invested in IT to adopt a rip-and-replace approach, he aded. Instead, he advocated open systems, with technical interfaces based on agreed standards.
The third attribute of an on-demand environment is virtualisation.
"Organisations are sitting on unused capacity," said Elzerman. The move from the mainframe to distributed systems has given functionality to end users, but the result has been low utilisation of IT resources.
"We have to address server utilisation, to provide capacity on demand," he said. "Grid computing allows us to do that. It allows distributed resources to be shared."
Finally, an on-demand environment has to be autonomic and self-managed, so that little human intervention is required.