Integration Scenarios There are some scenarios that demand integration strategies.Tightly written request-for-proposal documents that require outside vendors to prove compatibility with existing systems make the purchasing process itself a major partner in future integration successes. Of course, sticking to published, nonproprietary standards as a purchasing policy wherever possible allows for a competitive bidding process without any sacrifices in interoperability. The second major integration scenario is change in business needs. The most common driver is when organizations develop the need to establish tight relationships with business partners, an arrangement clearly dependent on the ability of IT staff to make intraorganizational interoperability work. EDI (electronic data interchange) is the long-standing business-to-business stalwart here, although organizations using EDI are increasingly switching to Internet-based EDI links instead of EDI VANs (value-added networks). The emerging best-practices approach is to use HTTP over Secure Sockets Layer, with SSL authenticated using client-side digital certificates. "What Im seeing is that customers want to get away from VANs," said Rick Clements, director of product marketing at SeeBeyond, in Redwood Shores, Calif. "Its not that their connections are not successful, but the cost is enormous. Many of the customers that I talk to want to leverage EAI to avoid these costly network connections. The common approach is to employ a specification like AS2 [Applicability Statement 2] to allow companies to share purchase orders without having to go through a VAN." AS2 (whose full name is HTTP Transport for Secure Peer-to-Peer Business Data Interchange over the Internet) is one way companies using EDI can lower costs. Its a proposed standards draft thats been submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force. It provides for reliable HTTP-based transport of EDI or XML messages while AS1 (Applicability Statement 1) does the same using SMTP. (The IETFs EDI page at www.ietf.org/ids.by.wg/ediint.html has more information.) Both AS1 and AS2 are already supported by many leading integration and EDI server vendors. The Web site of Drummond Group Inc. (www.drummondgroup.com), a consultancy doing AS1 and AS2 interoperability testing, provides compatibility test results. (Particularly interesting are the issues the group found with public-key infrastructure interoperability.) Another business change driving integration efforts is the implementation of an internal information portal. Portals provide a single window into enterprise information for employees, and they depend heavily on consistent document taxonomies, document markup efforts and consolidated data repositories. XML databases are emerging as strong players here because they provide a way to organize documents using markup tags without requiring major document changes or data re-entry. Finally, adoption of new industry standards or regulatory changes will sometimes mandate integration. For example, the financial sector is making a concerted attempt to embrace straight-through processing, an effort to reduce the average settlement time of financial transactions from the current three days to 24 hours or less. This is something that will be possible only through reliable, event-driven application integration servers connecting all the parts of the settlement process. The medical industry is facing similar challenges as a result of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act mandates to integrate data from the doctors office back through to the insurer. All these intraorganizational challenges are best handled through a dual strategy of industry-specific consortia establishing standards and deployment of leading application integration tools to provide reliable, standards-based integration. XML-based document schemas are delivering great value here and are rapidly being adopted in B2B efforts.
The first is the most familiar to organizations: the basic need to connect diverse internal systems to share information, reuse system resources, preserve data integrity and ensure consistent system configuration. The most powerful tool an organization has in this scenario is its ability to minimize diversity and maximize interoperability through centralized standards-setting, purchasing and budget approval.