By Loraine Lawson
With Scott Cosby, a manager with IBM WebSphere Business Integration's marketing team.
This interview originally appeared in the IT Business Edge weekly report, "Aligning IT and Business Goals." To see a complete listing of IT Business Edge weekly reports or sign up for this free technology intelligence agent, visit www.itbusinessedge.com.
Question: What is business integration software and does it differ from business process automation software?
Cosby: One is a subset of the other. When I think of business integration, certainly business process automation is one of the components of that. Really, business integration is how companies bring together the people, process, and information resources within their organization. But the business integration space that we look at really has what I'd call four key areas. The first is business process automation, which is probably what most people think of when they think of business integration. But another dimension to it is what I'd call event, or message, or even service-oriented messaging or integration. It's not just about the process automation, but integration that can happen just on a message basis; for instance, a message to NASDAQ that executes an order. A third area would be what I would call build-to-integrate: so, building new applications or new logics that are built to integrate from the core. Then the fourth type of integration—that's business-to-business integration: across the firewall, between companies, whether it's a supply chain type of scenario or a partnership, or sometimes in a customer/supplier relationship.
Question: How does business integration relate to alignment between IT and the business?
Cosby: If you think of business integration, you're integrating existing and new people, process and information. It is incredibly important that you bridge this IT and line of business [gap]. You generally have two key subject matter experts within organizations. You have a group of folks, call them business analysts or line of business experts, and they know the process. They know what the business needs to do to achieve their objectives. Then that has to be transferred to the IT specialists. The IT specialists know the systems; they know what will work and won't work and how to get things done within the IT world. I contend that businesses need to build out six fixed capabilities to really do business integration.
The first is to model. You want to be able to model the business's functions and processes. You want to be able to have your subject matter access the business process model, the flow, literally in a tool—drag and drop, boxes, lines, connect the dots. Because you have that common functional layout and process flow linked now to your technology implementation, the two can bridge together. You can almost imagine the business analyst sitting down with the IT person and saying, "Okay, let's talk about this business flow. What does this mean?" And then as you iterate through, the IT person can come back to the business person and say, "Look, I know we said we wanted to do A and B then C, but I think if we did it slightly differently—if we broke up B to actually be two parts, I think we'd be able to do it faster." They can iterate back and forth and they're now speaking the same language, versus just saying, "I need it to go faster."
Question: What needs to be in place in terms of the business and IT before starting a business integration project?
Cosby: First of all, you have to have clearly identified and defined the business problem. You need to be able to establish the key performance indicators that will be used to measure your success. Now this can be both business and technology goals...but you need to have clearly laid out what are those indicators because you want to be able to integrate in a way that you can measure the performance on an ongoing basis. I think you also need to get buy-in from the key constituents in both the line of business and IT, because typically, we find that integration projects are not driven by one part of the community or the other. It's done by both together and so it does take very much of a team effort.