App integration: The time is now

Learn why businesses need to update their app integration processes and how to avoid technology silos.

Organizations need to rethink their approach to application integration, and the sooner the better. Many organizations are still using the traditional method of point-to-point app integration and this, combined with the advent of cloud, social and mobile technologies, is resulting in technology silos. The problem will continue to get worse unless organizations put the brakes on their application adoption and put some serious thought...

into their application architecture.

"The move into mobile computing and cloud computing is driving us to create more silos inside and outside the organization, and the ability to integrate all of these silos is typically an afterthought, and they're leading to a static architecture that is difficult to change. It is paramount that we start thinking about this; however, it's not typically how IT thinks," says David Linthicum, CTO and founder, Blue Mountain Labs.

"It has been common agreement that point-to-point interface technologies add complexity and cost to the enterprise, but they still proliferate today. I believe this is due to the lack of a process focus, and lack of semantic or domain models," says Carrin Tunney, IT manager at DTE Energy.

"To optimize integration within organizations we recommend the formation of a center for excellence, what we call an integration competency center," says Jess Thompson, research vice president for Gartner. "We've been recommending that for eight years now, and today only about 30%of organizations have a fully functioning integration competency center."

Heading down a slippery slope

In most cases, integration efforts proceed project-by-project with no consistent approach. Even within organizations that have a fully functional Integration Center, Thompson says that about 50%of the interfaces are developed on an ad hoc basis.

"We live in a world of Agile methodologies and the ability to put apps up quickly, making tactical decisions and buying what we need. There typically isn't a strategy around it in most organizations. They would say that the demands of the business are so great that they have to move in these one-off, ad hoc directions, but we're heading down a path where we're going to have a complex static architecture of thousands of silos that aren't communicating," says Linthicum.

Michael Brush, a developer at Open Software Integrators, says that while solutions are available to facilitate integration, they can be difficult to integrate into existing platforms. "The software enterprises are currently running is complex. Right now it's easier to just add another rule set to support the next device rather than do a re-architecture of everything to get it where it's supportable," he says.

Enterprises are doing most of their integration at the data layer, says Tunney. "This approach has been the most accessible and lowest cost to today's developers, due to the availability of tools on the market and the familiarity of SQL-based tool sets," says Tunney. "As you move up the stack, integration at the application layer and at the process layer is more costly, due to the need for message and data transformation, and protocol transformation."

Respondents to the TechTarget 2012 Application and Data Integration survey echo these concerns. Respondents cited cost (at 56%) and complexity (at 52%) as the main challenges application integration software present within their organizations.

According to Linthicum, integration technology is in its sixth or seventh generation, and while it was expensive and difficult to use when it first came to market in the '90s, that is no longer the case. Today, a significant portion of the cost of doing integration comes from people and time. "There's a cost in me not doing other things and the people that I need to make things happen. The technology is just a blip on the cost radar," says Linthicum.

Looking into the future

“We've dug ourselves into a hole," says Linthicum. "We continue to dig, and when we realize we can't see sunlight, people will panic. It will be retrofitted. Silos will stop until they get the architecture in order and figure out how information can flow freely within the enterprise."

"Companies are going to start looking at taking on that project of changing everything to a new model, where you have a centralized backend system and the front end UI connects back into that system, but they're going to be doing it in a slow manner, one application at a time with upgrades," says Brush. "It's going to be a slow migration from a star approach to a new centralized service bus, and that will take some time to build and set up."

Linthicum advises that organizations look at their business objectives and attempt to align their architectures with them. Then, create a roadmap for how people will work five to seven years from now.

"I believe it is imperative for today's enterprises to integrate at the process layers, which requires different toolsets and mindsets. To effectively integrate across systems, a common semantic message and data model must be developed, as well as technology that is more event-driven and real time," says Tunney.

"Architectures need to change. People think this is something they can buy. You can't buy your way out of this. You're going to have to think your way out of this,” says Linthicum. "You need to hire some of the skills and outsource some of the skills. Some of the talent needs to be kept in-house, but get mentoring organizations, people who have the skills and knowledge, to assist you in moving things along."

About the author
Crystal Bedell is a freelance technology writer specializing in cloud computing and information security. Connect with her via LinkedIn or email.

This was first published in March 2013

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