Intelligent Business-Process Integration

SAN MATEO (05/15/2000) - The lack of integration among business processes is a key business problem that can adversely affect a CTO's plans, regardless of the type of industry he or she is in. Ignoring long-term and ad hoc integration requirements at your company will most certainly lead to trouble.

There are three things that are driving business integration and changing the nature of integration from a long-term investment to a more dynamic proposition. First, and most obvious, we are undergoing a strong surge in business-to-business integration, which will streamline workflow, introduce efficiencies, and reduce costs. But business partnerships are changing on a much more frequent basis today than in the past. Thus, a more dynamic integration strategy is needed.

Second, the constant evolution in e-commerce also increases the need for ad hoc integration that will blend your new or enhanced products or services with your existing workflow. And third, rapidly evolving technology means that a constant focus on integration is required to blend your existing business processes with new technical solutions you may introduce.

A recent Meta Group Inc. report estimates that this year we'll spend $1.8 billion on integration products and services alone. Moreover, the Meta Group report expects that our integration needs will fuel growth in the integration products and services market to $9.1 billion by 2004. This significant growth is a direct result of the e-business dynamics I just cited.

I've covered the subject of integration before in this column and recently wrote about the four things that next-generation integration will need to address. These include a multi-layered approach to integrating the enterprise, support for ad hoc integration, controlling integration at the business process level, and expanding integration support beyond our current transaction-centric viewpoint IBM addresses e-business integrationThe dynamics of e-business most certainly mean that next-generation integration products and services have to be more intelligent and manageable. They also require less custom development and greater adherence to open standards.

IBM Corp. is solidly addressing next-generation business integration requirements with a new version of MQSeries Integrator -- a messaging broker that supports dynamic, real-time enterprise integration. The IBM MQSeries family of products already has a strong following due to its reliability and mature nature.

You might think of MQSeries Integrator as a hub that connects the myriad of disparate applications and data you need to do business. MQSeries itself is highly reliable message-oriented middleware that is ideal for long-or short-term business partnerships and the resulting integration.

There are several compelling reasons to consider MQSeries Integrator. I particularly appreciate that MQSeries Integrator is rules-based and is managed at a business-process level. Graphical tools let business analysts visually add or change integration based on their business requirements without requiring a huge custom development effort.

Equally important, MQSeries Integrator has added support for XML and can interconnect XML-supporting sites with those that are not using it. The XML support will speed up integration among business partners with differing technologies and potentially help sites move toward more rapid adoption of the XML standard.

MQSeries can also "talk to" third-party products. For example, you might use MQSeries Integrator in conjunction with data-warehousing tools to extract meaningful data that can be forwarded to business partners. This newest MQSeries Integrator version offers more integration options by routing information not only from one point to another but also from one process to many processes and from many processes to one.

The new graphical workflow definition and multiple routing options provide a powerful way for businesses to automate and modify workflow on the fly. For example, MQSeries Integrator might be used to link the business processes that manage order-fulfillment workflow.

The MQSeries Integrator hub could receive all incoming orders and execute processes that verify the order, manage exceptions, and store the order for tracking purposes. MQSeries Integrator workflow can then be used to kick off a SQL statement to determine whether the order items are available and also to find the nearest location to the customer's site.

The next step might be to locate the shipping schedule for the items and then generate a pick slip, packing list, and shipment request. The order could then be shipped.

IBM has done a good job of addressing the business demands of next-generation integration. MQSeries Integrator will help reduce costs, increase efficiency, and enable more dynamic integration.

Does your integration strategy meet the dynamic demands of e-business? Write to me at maggie_biggs@infoworld.com.

Maggie Biggs is director of the InfoWorld Test Center.

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