Editorial: Making it work

It's an old rule of fashion that what was once ‘in' and now ‘out' will eventually be ‘in' again. I spotted this rule in action today as I walked through a car yard and noticed the cars mostly featured upholstery cut from the curtains my mum used to hang in the seventies. Still daggy, but at least ‘in', according to preferences of this Adelaide-based Japanese car maker.

Perhaps ‘daggy', but very much ‘in' is a description that could easily be applied the backroom job of ‘integration' - because despite years of standards hype, much of the IT industry still finds it impossible to make things that work together. Solutions only appear ‘seamless' to the end user after hours and hours of behind the scenes integration and debugging work. Obviously, some of this hassle is inherent in the complexity of competing technologies, but in emerging markets such as e-commerce development tools and platforms, integration headaches come with immature standards and products.

Unfortunately the available technology is not helping that much with what little integration there is being stuck together with string, glue and hard work, says Dr Eric Woods, who is manager of tools and architectures research, within the IT analysis group at Ovum.

There is very little metadata exchange between the e-commerce development tools, the back-end integration tools and the content management tools - this is all done manually. Operational control is even more parlous, Woods adds.

"There needs to be a feedback loop between organisations building these [e-commerce] things and vendors supplying the tools - we're just at the start of that now - it will be next year - or the year after before they are decent, " he says.

Meanwhile, the challenge of large-scale software integration is as pressing as ever, with leading organisations now pushing past online presence and legacy application ‘Webification' on their way towards business-to-business e-commerce.

The most mature e-commerce options right now appear to the platform offerings, particularly from IBM and BEA Systems. Leading EAI (enterprise application integration) tools, now useful for building point solutions, according to Woods, show promise of becoming core architectural products.

Relief may arrive in the form of service offerings from the likes of US startup Contivo Inc, which says it will integrate disparate applications by using EAI software from its core investors Tibco and Webmethods. The report on Contivo e-service says it includes a Java application that lets ‘business' managers establish the mapping between different applications' interfaces.

The tool then generates the connectivity code between trading partners' applications and creates a repository for business rules and data transformation.

Companies would pay a subscription fee for the hosted application based on the number of business processes. Contivo estimates that a typical trading hub has 30,000 links and it takes a week, or 40 working hours, to manually code the interfaces for each link.

Glue, string and hard work - sounds like business as usual.


Editor in chief

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