Make the business case for enterprise information integration

Enterprise information integration (EII) services allow organizations to gather, analyze and present data in real time. The on-demand feature of EII is just one of four value points CIOs use to sell the benefits of this service to the CEO.

Enterprise information integration, or EII, can enable IT organizations to better collect, analyze and reuse various data than other methods such as enterprise application integration (EAI) or extraction, transforming and loading (otherwise known as ETL). However, presenting the business case for EII to your CEO is not always an easy task.

"The EII approach generally relies on the implementation of an abstracted data layer that provides flexibility and efficiency to the data integration process, without changing the data sources. Queries to the multiple data sources are used to deliver the information on demand to the application calling for the data," said Marcia A. Kaufman, a partner at research firm Hurwitz & Associates in Waltham, Mass.

The demand for enterprise information integration software and related services is steadily rising, with worldwide revenue estimated to hit an all-time high of $1 billion by 2007, according to Lexington, Mass.-based consultancy Infostructure Associates.

Experts advise CIOs to address the following four key points when trying to persuade CEOs of the value of an enterprise information integration rollout:

1. Outline business drivers.

Justifying an EII rollout is nearly impossible from a corporate point of view, said Frank Gilbane, CEO of Gilbane Group Inc., a content management research company in Cambridge, Mass.

"What's easier is for CIOs to make the case that a particular department needs EII for a particular reason," said Gilbane, such as streamlining supply chains, quickly updating product catalogs and resolving customer complaints sooner.

CIOs should also emphasize that EII could produce significant cost savings by slashing application development time, said Wayne Kernochan, who heads up Infostructure Associates. His company's research shows that coding of data access consumes up to 40% of programmers' time.

"I would tend to sell EII more on ROI terms, as in speed to market. But it also has a significant effect on your total cost of ownership, because it's going to make your software better" and reduce costs of database administration.

2. Don't just talk -- demonstrate.

Most enterprise information integration products contain dashboards or other reporting tools that display dynamic data that relates to operational performance, such as up-to-the-minute sales, status of new-product development, or unified views of customers.

"Instead of waiting overnight for fresh data in a report that describes tactical operations, managers can -- through EII and a reporting solution -- refresh the report with up-to-the-minute data, to [be able to] judge very recent corporate performance," said Philip Russom, senior manager of research and services at The Data Warehousing Institute in Lexington, Mass.

Gilbane said CEOs tend to experience an epiphany when they see this collected operational intelligence at their fingertips.

"If an executive realizes that a competitor can get this much information this fast, there's an 'uh oh' moment that takes place," he said.

3. Evaluate your options.

The once-fragmented enterprise information integration market has undergone consolidation in recent years. IBM seized a good chunk of market share by acquiring EII vendor Venetica in 2004. In addition, IBM is expected to include a complete EII platform as part of its forthcoming IBM WebSphere Information Server.

Oracle Corp. responded to IBM's acquisition of Venetica by buying Context Media, a content integration firm, in 2005.

More recently, Dublin, Calif.-based Sybase Inc. acquired Burlington, Mass.-based Avaki Inc., which offers EII software for grid computing.

A few additional independent vendors remain, including Composite Software Inc. in San Mateo, Calif.; Ipedo Inc. in Redwood City, Calif.; and MetaMatrix Inc. and Metatomix Inc., both in Waltham, Mass.

Russom said companies shouldn't be daunted by the shakeout, which signals the market is maturing. In the long run, "users are best served by EII [software] that's built into larger platforms."

CIOs also should ask potential EII suppliers two main questions, Gilbane said: "Which types of databases and application have [vendors] had success integrating? And do they have the domain expertise in the specific area you're interested in?"

Kernochan said CIOs should expect to pay a minimum of $20,000 on EII software, although the larger expense stems from purchase of various consulting and integration fees from vendors, which could cost at least two to three times that amount.

4. Consider the alternatives.

Users have other options for integrating data, although Kernochan said none quite match the usefulness of enterprise information integration. Data integration, for instance, enables you to present two pieces of data from different systems together, but "you've still got to massage the data further to put it [all] in the same format."

Likewise EAI is an option, albeit for limited uses.

"EAI is an important piece of the puzzle because it enabled two applications to talk to one another. What it didn't do is address how to integrate the information these programs are exchanging," Gilbane said.

Morgenthal said CIOs should not mistake EII as a replacement, but rather an adjunct to both EAI and ETL, which is used to move data between databases or convert databases to different formats.

"They are three legs of the same stool," he said.

Garry Kranz is a freelance business and technology writer in Richmond, Va. He can be reached at gkranz@ureach.com.

This was first published in August 2006

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