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E-Business Review put 10 integration questions to 10 technology suppliers. Here in their own words, are their answers

E-Business Review put 10 integration questions to 10 technology suppliers. Here in their own words, are their answers

Question 1: What is e-business integration?
E-business integration is the enhancement of an organisation and its value chain through the implementation of Internet-based and emerging multi-channel technologies and open standards. Integrating line of business applications, systems, processes, knowledge, information and people within and across enterprise boundaries, furthers the organisation's business needs and strategies and increases business efficiencies and value.

Appropriate e-business integration should allow for secure, easy and reliable interactions; provide flexibility for incorporating new and evolving business-critical components; and better prepare organisations for the interconnected, mobile, knowledge-rich networked economy.

Mike Pomerance, IBM Global Services

Question 2: Why bother integrating?
Integration is vital for companies to succeed against the pace of change that has become endemic to business today. Only those companies that have effective IT integration both within their enterprise and with their customers, partners, suppliers and marketplaces will be able to truly thrive. Integration enables an easy and seamless exchange of information, streamlines business processes and increases efficiency. This in turn improves overall performance from internal processes to customer satisfaction to shareholder value. Coca-Cola integrated its back end systems to front end Web operations as part of an initiative to lower costs, increase efficiencies and enable more collaborative business processes across the commerce chain. Since implementation almost a year ago Coca-Cola has seen dramatic improvement in its capability to maintain the integration of systems in an environment of increasing business change.

Charles Saunders, EMEA vice president of strategic planning, Mercator

Question 3: Where is a good place to start integrating Web systems?
Two aims must be achieved in order to implement an e-business system. Firstly, you must expose an e-business system to the Web or a private network shared with partners. Secondly, you must integrate this e-business layer with your existing application systems. Different technology is used for each layer. A sophisticated e-business layer should be built on top of a standards-based B2B system (look to standards such as ebXML and RosettaNet). A very simple layer can be built on a Web Services product. You should use J2EE (in a Java only environment) or CORBA (in a multi-programming-language environment) to achieve integration with existing applications.

Sean Baker, chief corporate scientist for IONA Technologies

Question 4: When you are buying or building new e-business systems, how do you make sure that your choices will be integration friendly?
Ensure that it integrates with legacy systems and data, irrespective of platform, application or DBMS. Check that you get visibility of your data, including that on legacy systems, in real time - or when you want it.

If your business strategy changes, confirm how flexible it is in responding to that change and whether a major re-implementation would ensue. Ask your supplier if later on it will allow you to add best of breed applications as a virtual plug-in. Check if it allows incremental implementation, thereby reducing the risk of 'big bang' implementations Ask how long it takes to implement.

Is it virtually out of the box or is there a major implementation?

Richard Waller, director of CA's interBiz UK

Question 5: Integrating Web and back-office operations is expensive - how can I cut the cost?
The integration of Web and back-office operations needs to address two dimensions:

1. A 'future facing' approach to the development and deployment of applications that work with the Web, but also scale well to address the enterprise application environment.

2. A 'current day' approach to the provision of an infrastructure that embraces integration with existing so-called legacy applications and collaborative business links with other organisations.

Such a coherent infrastructure avoids the heavy costs of ad-hoc, 'spaghetti' application linkages. BEA's perspective is that the Java 2, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) application standards, which provide a scalable, 'Web-savvy' application infrastructure capable of integrating easily with non-Java applications, combined with XML (and, as a natural extension, with Web Services) deliver the perfect platform to meet these needs.

Ian Doyle, senior architect, BEA

Question 6: How do you measure return on investment from e-business integration?
Measuring return on investment (ROI) for an integration project often focuses too much on black and white ROI, when the real return for the company is more of an intellectual one.

The customer placing an online order and then receiving a call from a call-centre handler, shortly afterwards, to run through the purchase details will, more often than not, be impressed by the service and become a repeat business candidate. This is where linking the back and front office together delivers intellectual ROI - customer satisfaction, referral business and a good brand image.

Kevin Brown, business development executive, Attachmate

Question 7: Why do so many integration projects fail?
Some integration projects are doomed to failure, runaway costs and late delivery because of massive oversights at the planning stage. Understanding that integration projects need to accommodate all business processes, people and inter-relationships, be they physical or system driven, will help to set objectives and will show the scale of the project. Then it can be broken down into very achievable segments. Also, the choice of integration partner is critical. Work alongside a supplier that is proven, who understands the need to focus upon internal integration and is able to exploit existing systems and information content without adopting a new for old policy. In this way it's possible to utilise existing systems and applications and converge them with new Web-based technologies.

Martin Painter, solutions director, Sterling Commerce

Question 8: What is enterprise application integration?
The enterprise application integration platform (EAI) provides the solution for integrating the extended enterprise by addressing the six key elements encompassing a business process - enterprise applications, databases and data warehouses, mainframe and legacy applications, Web services, human workflow and trading partners/customers. Integrating each of these core areas enables companies to unlock the return on investment that was originally promised by many stand-alone applications. End-to-end integration gives companies the ability to answer important business questions no matter where the information resides - in disparate systems, between those systems, or in different countries.

Laurie Mascott, vice president EMEA for webMethods

Question 9: What is Web application integration?
Web application integration (WAI) enables organisations to provide their employees, partners, suppliers and customers with a personalised Web portal, through which they have appropriate access to enterprise information and transactions.

Most organisations have a range of enterprise applications, each of which is accessed in a different way. The arrival of Web technologies only exacerbated this, as each application was independently Web-enabled.

Many organisations now have hundreds of different URLs (website addresses) for accessing different applications. This leads to user confusion and brand dilution, it adds significant security management effort and causes inconsistencies between applications.

When implemented effectively, WAI should provide users with a single personalised portal that accesses enterprise systems either directly, via the Web or via EAI technology that they can customise to fit the ways they wish to work.

Ian Turner, managing director, Broad-Vision UK

Question 10: What is universal description, discovery and integration?
UDDI is a central repository for businesses to advertise their services online. As the Yellow Pages advertises business services with a telephone number, UDDI advertises business Web services with a URL replacing the telephone number.

The UDDI Community is already comprised of well over 100 business and technology leaders working together to enable companies to quickly, easily and dynamically find and transact with one another. As a cornerstone of the emerging Web services architecture, UDDI will benefit businesses of all sizes by creating an open, platform-independent specification and make cross-business interaction a possibility.

Gavin King, developer tools marketing manager at Microsoft

Glossary box
J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition) - An enterprise scale Java platform that simplifies application development through the use of re-usable, modular components

Corba (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) - An architecture that facilitates the distribution, creation and management of software objects

RosettaNet - An organisation set up by a group of IT suppliers, including Microsoft, HP, Intel and IBM, to define and implement a common set of standards for e-business, including nearly 100 for e-business transactions

EbXML - A project that aims to use XML to standardise the secure exchange of business information, possible replacing old standards like EDI

DBMS - Software that allows a user to create and access data in a database

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