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Why do we need business integration?
Whilst many vendors push for customers to jump on the next technology bandwagon, many organisations have still yet to fully address one of the most fundamental of problems - integrating systems. In order to provide a better understanding of the problems faced and the possible solutions, this series of articles aims to provide an insight into the area of integration.
In the beginning, computer systems were simple. You went to you local IT vendor, bought a mainframe, a network, some green screen terminals and some business applications. The one-stop-shop of the proprietary model served us well in the 1960s, 1970s and even part of the 1980s. There was no real need to integrate, it was all done for you in the proprietary world as it was in the supplier's interests to ensure they satisfied all of your IT needs. And as for the thought of integrating with suppliers, partners and customers - it just wasn't there because no one had though of it.
But in the 1980s, things started to change. The development of the PC disrupted the industry, as did the emergence of the ISV. Suddenly computing power was easily accessible on the desktop by anyone and everyone. When it came to deciding what applications to run there was now a choice of suppliers.
These factors coupled with the introduction of the open systems model, bringing with it terms such as interoperability and systems integration, meant an end to the proprietary one-stop-shop. ISVs came to the fore with their sights set on providing applications for vertical industry segments or horizontal solutions in the infrastructure layer. These new ISVs produced applications that ran on a variety of hardware, the very nature of their business model meant they had to cover as many environments as possible. This in turn gave customers real choice for the first time.
Of course there is always the flip side to the coin and the freedom of choice provided by the open systems model had to be paid for somewhere along the line. Sure enough, the new problem facing enterprises was how to fit all these different applications, from different vendors, into their IT architecture in a seamless and integrated manner. Many of the larger vendors quickly spotted the opportunity to regain those revenues lost, with the collapse of the proprietary model, as the need for systems integration moved up the enterprise's shopping list. New entrants also quickly spotted the opportunity for integration services and soon the IT services business was expanding at a rate never before imagined.
The problem was that simply throwing resource at a problem as big as integration never works and the task of integrating an enterprise's systems were far more complex than was envisaged at the projects inception. Not only did the new open systems based applications from the ISVs have to be integrated with one another, they also had to be connected to the enterprise's legacy systems, which are after all the real lifeblood of the business.
Within just a few years, IT had moved from the locked down one-stop-shop approach of the proprietary world into a veritable free for all, where choosing the right application could give the enterprise real competitive advantage.
IT moved from being a necessary evil, that automated mundane and complex processes, to being seen as a way of supporting and, more importantly, enabling business operations. But in order for this opportunity to be fully taken advantage of, enterprises had to be able to fit together all the pieces of the disparate application portfolio into a cohesive unit.
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