Integration imperatives

Start with one statistic, and it's easy to understand the mission of the Integration Consortium (IC): 95 percent of all...

According to a 2003 study by the Standish Group, 95% of all application integration projects fail,. The IT staff assigned to such projects significantly blow their budgets, exceed their schedules or fall far short of the goals.

In an effort to stem that tide of frustration, the Integration Consortium (IC), a 130-member alliance of users, suppliers, systems integrators and academic institutions based in Calgary, Canada, has launched the Global Integration Framework. The GIF is an attempt to codify and disseminate best practices based on consolidated standards and to provide the technical support necessary to make the practices work.

Standards groups perform a necessary function, but separate groups often produce warring standards that complicate rather than streamline integration projects, says IC president John Schmidt, who is also Best Buy's leader of systems integration and middleware.

The need for a more effective, broad-based approach is urgent, because all those failed application integration projects add up to a lot of wasted money, according to IC co-chairman Michael Kuhbock. Industry studies peg the cost of application integration at 35% or more of all IT project costs, which can translate into $100m (£54.3m) a year for big companies, says Kuhbock, who is also chief executive officer of Groundswell Revolution, an integrator and enterprise application integration consultancy in Calgary. The IC says that using the GIF could easily cut the application integration portion of total IT costs in half.

There's a price beyond dollars for unsuccessful integration projects, says Schmidt. "When the business side looks at the IT community, [these failed projects] are one of the things that get questioned, and that undermines our credibility."

The consortium's remedy for the situation starts with the GIF repository, containing detailed information about proven methodologies, most prominently Johnson & Johnson's Total Business Integration initiative.

The approved methodologies in the repository are supported by a formal data model for integration metadata. The repository also provides access to an enterprise architecture development model in the form of The Open Group Architecture Framework, or Togaf, an integration design and software framework for standardising interfaces that was developed by the Avalanche Consortium.

But the IC doesn't define itself as merely a clearing house of information or a band of industry evangelists. It is developing a three-year road map that includes training and certification programs for products and procedures that comply with the GIF or GIF-approved standards.

The consortium points to its focus on end users and their concerns. It emphasises that the GIF is supplier-neutral, but like most similar industry groups, it courts supplier participation and financial support. Mark Tempelmeyer of IBM is co-chairman of the IC, along with Kuhbock. The consortium membership also includes Oracle and BEA Systems, as well as smaller players such as Sonic Software, Fiorano Software, Software AG and Informatica.

So, can one more industry organisation, no matter how ambitious or well-meaning, make significant progress toward rationalising the application integration process in large businesses?

"There's certainly value in what the consortium is trying to do - creating a dialogue between suppliers and users on emerging technology," says Gordon Van Huizen, chief technology officer at Sonic Software. "The global framework is very ambitious but may be overly specific at this point."

Tommy Peterson writes for Computerworld

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