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EAI - The 'Crazy Glue' of Business Applications

Written By: J. Dowling
Published On: September 18 2000

The Promise of EAI

Plug and Play business application system integration is the goal of investment in EAI technology. Buyers have a number of applications from various suppliers and a number of external trading partners with whom they want to exchange business transactions. EAI suppliers promote products that connect to a diverse set of applications (Adapters) transform data format, structure and content (Transformation Capabilities), move data among applications predictably and with assured content integrity (Transport), and create new transaction interconnections with assured process integrity (Workflow).

With a full complement of Adapters, the appropriate set of Transformation Capabilities, versatile communications Transport and flexible Workflow capabilities, heterogeneous applications, platforms and network configurations cease to be impediments. EAI tools promise seamless and flexible interconnection with low overhead.

Apparent Capabilities versus Vital Capabilities

TEC has examined a number of recent EAI acquisitions to refine its Selection Model and Knowledge-based Procurement Process. Of particular interest is the difference that we noticed when we compared selection criteria to success criteria. It is clear that a number of selections did not sufficiently address long-term cost of ownership and operation capabilities. Several of those capabilities are described in the following table.

The column titled Apparent Capability lists a number of EAI features and functions that customers included in their Request for Proposal (RFP). The Discovered Requirement provides examples of additional capabilities that at least one customer discovered should have been included as a requirement in its RFP. The third column, entitled Implications, captures important considerations for buyers based on actual discovery during implementation and use.

Category Apparent Capability Discovered Requirement Implications
Performance Product supports multiple instances operating on multiple servers and demonstrates linear performance increase characteristics. Product supports linearly scaleable performance and Quality of Service controls to manage available resources. Although the selected product did demonstrate performance improvements commensurate with increased resource availabilty, it was necessary to reconfigure transport flows to avoid "resource hogging" by a relatively small number of large and/or complex messages.
Availability Product has features to assure 24 X 7 operational status. Product has features to assure 24 X 7 operational status and full environment backup without operational downtime. During failure recovery testing, it was found that all message services must be quiesced (shut down) in order to assure recovery from a backup fileset.
Availability Product supports transport server direction through named services and dynamic location (like Domain Name Services). Product supports server access through named services and supports access through multiple paths with assigned selection priority. Although the product provided dynamic load balancing, it was not capable of employing all available network paths between servers.
Management Product provides multi-tiered promotion of workflow configurations (e.g., Development to Quality Assurance to Productive). Multi-tiered workflow configuration promotion supports coexistence of multiple versions of the product operating simultaneously on different platforms. A Productive version was upgraded to fix a bug and promotion transport services on another server refused to interact with the "incompatible" version.
Management Product employs a repository of all metadata and an intuitive graphical user interface for configuration programming. Product provides a graphical user interface for configuration programming and to assist with message flow tracing during debug actions. It was discovered that ease of configuration was not complemented with a similar facility for tracing and (single-stepping) messages through the system.

Category Apparent Capability Discovered Requirement Implications
Installation Supplier installs and verifies the operational status of the product. Supplier also assures failure recovery and provides backup, recovery and upgrade procedures. Failover, backup and recovery systems were left to the customer (who did not have a full understanding) as was all process documentation. Lack of full understanding was discovered at an inopportune time.
Installation Supplier provides product training and implementation assistance. Supplier also provided proficiency assessments with training as a follow-up service. Customer found that poor programming practices had become the norm and had to recode a number of message configurations to obtain desired levels of reliability and performance.
Adapters Product provided "native" connectivity to the applications and data storage facilities listed. Product provides non-invasive connectivity for execution of the transactions described. Most Adapters were found to be "starter kits" with a limited number of transactions and an even more limited set transaction features.
Adapters Supplier provides documentation and training for the development of custom adapters. Custom adapters can be incorporated into the repository and they can be readily validated and carried forward through sytem upgrades. Custom adapters required "special handling" for use and their functionality was unknown to the metadata repository.
Security Product provides secured access to configuration tools. Multiple levels of tool access are provided to assure configuration integrity, promotion control and administrative access without configuration capability. Work could not be distributed without risking system integrity.
Security Product is compatible with "Firewall Product" assuring network transparency List all firewalls that the product has been operated through with references to parties who configured them. An internal firewall was improperly configured to allow message flows resulting in a security risk

Category Apparent Capability Discovered Requirement Implications
Security Product has the capability to employ user credentials and certificates. User credentials can be associated with users who are authenticated only once or for each transaction. Multiple authentication models were found to be necessary only after implementation.
Business Rules Product allows business rules to be configured into the repository and reused. Specific applications of business rules can be configured into "macros or super-processes" that span multiple business rules and process flows. Opportunities for improved reuse were discovered during system design and configuration.
Workflow Product provides workflow capabilities beyond message routing. Product workflow features interoperate with the products listed. An application could have benefitted from integration with Oracle Corporation's Workflow.
Transport Product supports publish/subscribe and request/reply communications models. Product interoperates transparently with the Message Oriented Middleware (MOM) products listed. Newly aqcuired businesses already owned and operated MOM from a different supplier and wanted to maintain integrated messaging.

 

Preparing for an EAI Initiative

Comprehensive preparation maximizes chances for success by establishing clear goals and identifying risks.

  1. Create a clear picture of how the product will be applied to business process automation tasks.

  2. Create a clear picture of how the product will be operated, administered and managed.

  3. Create a clear picture of how the product will be deployed including:

  • Server platforms and operating systems

  • Objects (Application Systems, Relational Data Bases, Special File Structures) that will be interconnected.

  • Trading partners that will be interconnected including their interconnection requirements.

  • Monitoring systems (Hewlett Packard's Openview, Computer Associates' TNG) that will be employed.

  • Performance measurement and management processes and reporting.

  • Event monitoring, response and escalation

  1. Establish capacity, performance and availability requirements for the system that will be built using the technology.

  2. Define an implementation timeline linked to business system deployments.

  3. Create a selection team with clear roles and responsibilities.

  4. Build the Business Case
    Identify the potential time and cost savings of the future model. Include anticipated maintenance and product application extensions.

  5. Design a Future System
    Create a concise picture of how the information technology staff and business leaders will employ the technology and how it will perform after it has been assimilated into mainstream operation.

  6. Create a Call to Action
    Build a coalition of lead users and executives around the business value that can be derived from the technology.

  7. Identify and Select Suppliers
    Using the Business Case and Future System Design to establish selection criteria and a model for the ideal product, map contending solutions to the model and select a product configuration and supplier(s). Include Application Service Providers as well as product vendors and systems integrators to maximize the leverage of resources and to minimize project risk.

  8. Scope the Project and Risk
    The gap between the idealized system and the one that will result from the selection process will impact investment return. The gap between existing technology capabilities and those required to deliver the solution contribute to project risk. EAI deployments derive most of their risk from change imposed on design and implementation techniques i.e., the skills and practices that are employed by the technical staff. When all of these are factored into the scope / risk equation, a final check of return on investment can be made and a decision to move forward and on what can be made.
 
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