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Business aligned integration architecture

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This is a summary of the Business Aligned Integration Architecture presentation given at the WebSphere MQ and Business Integration User Group meeting at IBM Hursley on 21 June 2005.

The superscript refers to the relevant slides.

Introduction

There are two very different meanings for the term "business aligned". To investigate what these mean, and the impact that they have on integration, the presentation:2

  • Highlights why integration is important to businesses.
  • Presents a conceptual taxonomy for integration.
  • Presents two extreme views of IT: the expansive and the minimal orientation.
  • Explores the impact of these views on integration.
The purpose of this presentation is to raise awareness of the need for debate, rather than to convince the audience of one viewpoint or the other.

The importance of integration

Integration has significant impacts on business:3

  • The timing of business processes.
  • Data consistency.
  • Ease of change of systems.

We need to make sure that the decisions we make about integration help business in the direction they need to go.

A conceptual taxonomy for integration

Conceptual taxonomy for integration

At the base of the tree is improvised connectivity. This represents connectivity to satisfy immediate project needs, without considering the impact this has on business.4,5

Improvised connectivity develops in two directions: value-added services which do more in middleware outside of systems, and meeting architectural requirements.7

Value-added services can be split into tactical and strategic.8

Tactical value-added services include point problem solvers, such as tools to convert between database tables and messaging middleware. Although valuable in the short term, these should not form the basis of a long-term architecture.9,10

Strategic value-added services can be split into message brokers which deal with an individual communication, and process management tools which deal with a series, or flow, or related communications.12

Both types of strategic value-added services can lead to problems when the solutions they build have no clear business ownership.13 Applying a process management tool to an unowned process does not solve the underlying business problem.15-20

The architecture requirements can be split into managing complexity and reuse.22

Managing complexity involves implementing standards for data connectivity and data formats to make it easier to integrate systems. This gives rise to a service bus architecture.23 The combination of MQ and XML is particularly effective.

The service bus approach manages technical complexity of integration. However, it provides little long-term help in the management of business complexity.24 A simple and strong guiding principle is required to ensure that integration helps manage business complexity.

Using integration for reuse is more effective than simple component reuse because it allows business activities to be reused, not just code.

Structural alignment

There is a misalignment between the human organisation structures which represent the breakdown of responsibility, and the IT structures.18

This is the cause of much of the difficulty between IT and business.

These structures have to be merged back together to make IT more relevant to business.

Orientations

We can characterise two extreme orientations, or viewpoints, of IT.30,31

The expansive orientation sees the role of IT to drive business change. The future state is enterprise-wide IT systems, around which the business organisation is restructured.

The minimal orientation sees IT as a resource for information automation, but not a good focus for business change. The future state is an optimised business organisation around which the IT is restructured. Using IT to be more connected, efficient and flexible is a business challenge, not a technical challenge.

Most people are somewhere between these extremes.

Impact on integration

The expansive orientation stresses process management tools and to a lesser extent brokers, because they allow solutions to be built which cut across the inefficiencies of the organisation.32

The minimal orientation stresses the use of integration to align systems around the organisation, and avoids ever using brokers and process management tools to cut across the organisation.33 The minimal orientation defines system boundaries around different areas of management responsibility, and uses these as a basis for managing complexity. This could be called responsibility oriented architecture.

Advantages of minimal integration

Minimal integration provides a clear view of ownership which can avoid problems with message brokers34 and process management tools. It clearly shows where process management solutions are not tenable.37

Minimal integration provides a simple and strong guiding principle to help manage business complexity and flexibility, not just technical complexity and flexibility.36

The need for debate

The two extreme positions drive integration in different directions. The middle view perpetuates the structural misalignment between IT and business. As an industry we need to make a decision.

Focusing on the minimal orientation provides many advantages, but is contrary to the general industry direction. It challenges the positioning of process management tools, the use of optimised process and data models as the basis of integration design, the role of enterprise-wide systems, and the role of IT in business change.39

Recommendations

General recommendations:40

  • Implement a standards-based service bus.
  • Limit the use of tactical tools to short term problem fixing. Base architecture on standards, not tools.
  • Consider the purpose of integration further. Talk to other end user organisations.
  • Get advice from consultants who do not have the conflict of interest of providing integration products and development services.

Minimal integration recommendations:41

  • Design system boundaries to reflect the structure of organisational responsibilities, and design interfaces that represent hand offs of business responsibility.
  • Do not have a central broker performing any-to-any translation. Always translate to or from a standard message.
  • Only use process management tools where this is a clear responsibility for the end-to-end process.

Conclusions

There are different views of business alignment, and these drive integration in different directions. It is important to make a choice, because staying in the middle leaves systems misaligned with the business.

This is a critically important debate, especially for those involved in integration.

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