Thursday, March 15, 2012

Enterprise Application Integration - Challenges

The increased complexity and diversity in the information systems and the inability to rebuild the information systems from scratch is forcing enterprises to look at EAI as an alternative solution that will help extend the life of the existing applications and also add on newer applications to meet their changing needs. EAI, if not well done could add to the woes of the enterprise. Here are some of the typical challenges an EAI project will face, which need to be worked around to reap the real benefits of EAI.

  • Change Management Plan
It is important that the employees are bought in for the EAI initiatives and are taken into confidence for the changes that EAI brings in. With EAI, this is important as the Integration could be between many to many applications not only within the enterprise but also with partner / vendor applications. Many times, changes to such applications and / or the processes are necessary to implement best EAI solutions. Lack of proper Change Management Plan to support EAI initiative would mean resistance or reluctance from various business and IT teams to support the EAI project, which could lead to failure of EAI initiatives.
  • Project Costs
According to Gartner 50% of EAI projects are over budget.  Even when cost is under control, the projects slip the schedules and hits production later than expected. Typically, the cost of acquisition of knowledge of various systems, additional software & hardware, infrastructure support, vendor management, etc are ignored or not appropriately estimated in the planning stage resulting in cost overrun. In addition EAI requires lots of technical and business decisions to be taken during the course of the project and that calls for experts with tons of experience who in turn have a hefty price tag. While the project cost itself is not an issue, it is important that the overall cost is well estimated and the return on Investment is well established to the satisfaction of the Management, so that they will continue to support the EAI initiative. If this is not done well and if the project cost keep shooting up every now and then or if the schedule keeps slipping off, then the management is likely to withdraw the support, which would mean shelving the EAI initiatives.
  • Continuous Support
Like any other application, the EAI project is not an one-time implementation and it needs continuous support and maintenance. This is evident as the participating applications keep evolving and the business processes around which the integration needs are orchestrated keep changing depending on the growth and diversity of the business operations. In case of most EAI projects executed by vendors, this aspect is ignored and the recurring cost that arise on account of support and maintenance could be a surprise.
  • Choice of Technology & Tool
While the business team look for quick and easy solution that is flexible and cheap, the IT team look for reliability and ease of use among other things. The IT team also expects that the business team will be appreciative of certain limitations of the technology and tools, which is an area of concern for the business team. It is extremely difficult to choose a technology or tool that meets all the needs. For instance, especially in the Integration space, EAI tools are great for real time integration of small chunk of data between applications, whereas there are different tools for bulk ETL kind of integration needs. Similarly, EAI tools typically do not support complex transformations and instead the source or target solutions need to be enhanced to handle transformations. The Architects have a key role to play in establishing the process and practice aspects of EAI within the enterprise and it is important that these are thought of ahead of tools and technology selection.
Connecting people and technology is always a challenge, which is magnified further with great many choice of tools and technology. It is important that these challenges are understood well and an appropriate plan to work around these is put in place well in advance would ensure the success of EAI initiatives in an enterprise.