Systems integration used to be the preserve of the masochistic IT manager or the specialist skill of numerous service providers. Over the past decade, many of the major issues raised by integration have disappeared with the arrival of Internet technologies.
In the early 1990s, even getting a PC to talk to an Apple Macintosh still required nerves of steel - keeping them talking was more an exercise in mind over matter than engineering know-how. When it came to heterogeneous mainframes and minicomputers, specialist skills were called for.
Integration required conversions at the transport level, middleware at the interface and blind faith when it came to applications.
Then the World Wide Web arrived and things gradually changed as companies first of all moved to TCP/IP to allow company-wide access to the Internet. Later, as browsers became an everyday tool, application interfaces started to become Web-based.
This has led to the development of Extensible Markup Language (XML) and the Simple Object Access Protocol; standards which show promise in eventually solving the data exchange problems between applications.
Of course, this is a very idealistic view and there are still many challenges to meet before the choice of platform can truly be made on the grounds of fitness for purpose rather than on ease of fit. The halcyon world of plug and play is not yet with us but the mind-bending challenges are becoming fewer.
The next integration technology is likely to be Web services. Application programming interfaces will increasingly be exposed as Web services. This could mean the end of the situation where technological disparities poison potential take-over bids between businesses.
The physical connection will become the intranet and XML-based Web services will provide applications with a means of communication that transcends the current proprietary inter-meshing through disparate middleware products.
It will not matter if one company uses Oracle and another uses IBM DB2: they will still work together until a future decision is made over the need to migrate to a single system.
Integration is shifting and may well become a no-brainer but the issue of managing a wide range of platforms will remain. Perhaps the lucrative new pastures for integration service providers will be in consolidation and migration strategies.