They were echoing the keynote speech of Software AG's chief executive, Erwin Königs, who said: "A year ago all the talk was about innovation, today it's more focused on productivity. Integration means what can I do today that will help me quickly. This is the major shift were seeing from our customers."
Massimo Pezzini, research director at Gartner, said: "Last year was the golden year for middleware, with sales of around 1.3bn euros (£800m). But over the next five years the most important task for the IT manager will be to integrate these systems."
Pezzini estimated that some 20% of large enterprises now have teams dedicated to integration projects. He added that he thought this would grow to almost 50% by 2005.
Unless companies take integration seriously, Pezzini told the forum, the cost savings promised by middleware were unlikely to happen. "The number one priority is not buying more software," he said. "We have made mistakes for 30 years by not recognising the need to integrate what we already have."
He cited the example of a major airline that had 25 sets of customer data held in separate databases. The airline is now integrating the databases to reduce management overheads.
According to Gartner estimates, 90% of system management budgets are consumed by simply making data accurate across disparate systems.
Gary Barnett, principal consultant at analyst group Ovum agreed with Pezzini. "Businesses are still caught in the trap of buying point solutions in the hope that they will get business advantage," he said. "But the result is that they are storing up yet more integration hassles, ultimately making their systems harder to adopt."
Both analysts called for IT departments to have a strategic view of their systems and to consider creating an integration competency centre to manage projects. However, they both warned that organisations had to rationalise their business processes before integration - and ultimately cost-savings - could occur.
"Few companies have ever tried to catalogue the operations of all the individual IT systems," said Barnett. "That is a big project but once it's done, simple integration projects that don't require long lead times can be instigated from resources already present within the organisation."