Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Enterprise integration is one of the most difficult IT problems to crack.

A while back I was lucky enough to be invited to a reception at The Gherkin by a leading vendor of integration software. At the reception the CTO of this company made a speech; though I expected this to be fairly positive and sales-oriented, I was stunned when he announced that “the integration problem is 90% solved”. Having worked continuously on large-scale integration projects for the last 8 years or so, I was filled with a sense of dread that after all there had been an obvious answer that I and the talented people I had been working with had somehow overlooked. Intrigued, I grabbed the CTO as soon as he had finished his speech and challenged him about this. To my opening “You’re wrong, we’re not even at 10% yet” he managed to muster that he was just talking about the technology plumbing underlying integration. That of course is a different issue totally but this brief interlude highlights everything that is wrong with integration projects.

First and foremost, integration is a business problem, which needs to be owned and led by the business not the IT shop. Integration boils down to users attempting to conduct business while traversing system boundaries. Before you can understand how to plumb the systems together you need to understand the business processes involved. The problem with this is that understanding integrated business processes is very difficult. Moreover integration usually goes hand in hand with business transformation, so in parallel new business processes need to be agreed and integration aspects analysed and documented.

Integration projects go wrong when they are technology driven. A bunch of well-meaning techies (or even worse, mercenary consultants) tell senior managers that they can save £(name your amount) by providing “joined-up solutions”. The explanation is simple in management speak - “by joining up silos of data we make the business more efficient and agile, requiring fewer people to achieve greater productivity”. Who isn’t going to believe that (Tony Blair did). Joining up these silos means building business processes that can span the silos (otherwise you won’t get any improvement in efficiency). The net result is techies telling business people how to do their jobs - not renowned as a recipe for success.