Vendors Key On Infrastructure Integration
As the long deflated dot com bubble fades even further into history, organizations are taking a sharper look at the bottom line. Vendors like IBM, Unisys, and Xerox are now responding with new tools aimed at letting companies do more with the hardware and software systems they've already bought. Along the way, "integration" is becoming a bigger part of the lexicon for network managers and other administrators.
"Integration is a very hot topic these days. Just about every organization has some sort of integration project going on," says Eric Austvold, research director for the Enabling Technologies Service at AMR Research.
In a recent study by Gartner Group, CIOs rated "application integration/middleware/messaging" as their number two technology priority for 2003. Only "security enhancement tools" ranked higher, according to Bart Stanco, Gartner's senior VP for corporate development.
The other priorities, in descending order of importance, included enterprise portal deployment, network infrastructure/management tools, internal e-enabling infrastructure, Web design/development/content management tools, storage management deployment, customer relationship management (CRM), Web services, and deploying XML-based processes/messaging.
Emphasis Shifts from 'Buying More Stuff'
Among IBM's customers, the emphasis is shifting from purchasing "more and more stuff," to "moving more efficiently," reported Steve Mills, senior VP and group executive, IBM Software, during a recent press event in New York City.
Organizations are telling IBM that they need to bring together disparate "silos of information," so they can be more "flexible and adaptable, [to] take advantage of opportunities and threats," according to Mills.
A lot of server hardware purchased during the dot com boom remains underutilized, says Steve Wojtowecz, director of strategy for IBM Tivoli, while other products, ranging from router hardware to CRM software, are just "sitting in the closet."
Management Tools Gain Greater Features
Among vendors, one big integration thrust is toward adding more capabilities to existing products for security and network management, systems monitoring, database administration, and content management.
IBM's WebSphere Transaction Monitor, for example, doubles as a monitoring tool and integration platform, notes Mills.
For its part, IBM Tivoli is planning more capabilities in the areas of automated monitoring and network provisioning, according to Wojtowecz. Although plans are still being finalized, these new features might show up in the next edition of Tivoli Security Suite, a product that is expected to ship in October.
Earlier this month, Tivoli unveiled IBM WebSphere MQ Extended Security Edition V5.3, a product that rolls together IBM WebSphere MQ with Tivoli Access Manager for Business Integration.
Banks, government agencies, and other groups that use WebSphere MQ for crossplatform "sensitive messaging" can now reap the benefits of Tivoli's encryption and policy-based administration, Wojtowecz says. However, WebSphere MQ will continue to be available on a standalone basis, as will Tivoli Access Manager for Business Integration.
Meanwhile, IBM Lotus has launched Lotus Workplace, an initiative designed to provide new communications functions to "deskless workers" by combining elements of WebSphere with Lotus software. Lotus Workplace Messaging is the first product to be announced for Workplace.
In a phased rollout through early next year, Lotus plans to add a number of new capabilities to Workplace, including calendaring functionality, a Workplace portlet for WebSphere Portal 5, and easy integration between Workplace and Lotus Notes/Domino, reports David Lorden, director of strategy and market intelligence for Lotus.
Code Name 'Sparrow Web'
For its part, Xerox is working on a product codenamed Sparrow Web. Demonstrated at the recent CeBIT show in New York City, the software is designed for quick HTML-based creation of apps that extend underlying content management features from Xerox DocuShare to Microsoft Outlook and other third-party software.
Xerox plans to release the product next fall as an add-on to DocuShare 3.0. Early adopters include Stanford University, said Tao Liang, Ph.D., manager of advanced development for DocuShare, during an interview at CeBIT.
Sparrow Web is also part of a wider enterprise initiative announced by Xerox last fall. "Xerox is concentrating on its key strength in collaboration, while also working with partners with expertise in other areas," observes Amy Wohl, president of the analyst firm Wohl & Associates.
Xerox's partners include Cofax, for integrating digitized hard copy documents, and Verity, for categorization, says Colman Murphy, product manager for DocuShare.
Technology Meets Business
Another big chunk of the new software integration wave consists of software products for integrating communications and other IT functions with an organization's underlying business processes.
In the absence of off-the-shelf BPI (business process integration) products, some organizations, such as Schneider National, have been working on developing their own BPI middleware. Schneider has been using wireless networks for communicating with its trucking fleet since the early 1980s, pointed out Paul Mueller, Schneider's VP for tech services, during a presentation at CeBIT.
Without BPI middleware, Mueller maintained, the company couldn't move to a new wireless networking platform without also undergoing the expensive proposition of changing its business processes.
Keeping Network Managers in the Loop
Generally speaking, CIOs have ultimate responsibility over IT integration projects. Still, network managers and other systems administrators should be kept in the loop, analysts say.
"Making changes to underlying systems can create new security exposures," notes Gartner's Stanco. Sometimes, integration spells changes to network infrastructures, as well.
Vertical Markets Another Direction
Next month, IBM plans to release the latest in its series of Business Integration Adapters for connecting WebSphere Application Server and WebSphere Business Integration servers with outside applications. The new adapters will include offerings specific to the healthcare, automotive/electronics, and energy/utility vertical markets.
Earlier this month, Unisys unveiled a BPI strategy known as "Business Blueprinting." Under the initiative, Unisys is opening a new consultancy that revolves around solutions for matching business processes with servers, middleware, and other IT componentry.
During the Business Blueprinting launch in New York City, George Colony, founder and CEO of Forrester Research, pointed to a "lack of alignment between business and IT" as a key cause of overspending during the dot com boom.
The first set of "blueprints" from Unisys are for applications that include enterprise payments, multimedia messaging, integrated trade replenishment, banking and mortgage, publishing, airline reservations, risk management, health and human services, health claim management, registry and ID, justice and public safety, cargo security, property and casualty insurance, and life insurance and pension plan administration.
Like IBM and Xerox, Unisys is also pulling other vendors into its integration vision. The Web services-based blueprints utilize Microsoft products such as Windows Server, BizTalk Server, and .NET development tools, as well as IBM software such as WebSphere middleware and Rational development tools.
A 'Holistic Approach'
Some, but not all, organizations' current integration projects will succeed, analysts predict. "About 80 percent of the market is still doing integration the old-fashioned way. They're looking at integration on a project-by-project basis," Austvold said.
On that basis, it can become cost prohibitive to purchase outside integration products. "Companies who buy into IBM's integration strategies are better off if they take a more holistic approach. You really can't expect to achieve ROI in a one- or three-month project."
Unisys' new Business Blueprinting offering is particularly far reaching, since it attempts to base IT integration projects on a company's business goals, according to Lance Travis, VP of outsourcing strategies at AMR.
Are Service Costs a Factor?
Sometimes, as with Business Blueprinting, costs of services must also be factored into the equation. "Companies can definitely use Business Blueprinting to achieve ROI, though, if their business goals are on target," maintains Travis.
On the other hand, according to Austvold, many customers of IBM's integration products are going it alone. "IBM Global Services plays in a lot of spaces, but systems integration isn't necessarily always one of them," the analyst adds.
The "integration" buzzword can mean a lot of things. Vendors are integrating more capabilities into management tools of various sorts. Other products are trying to bridge the gap between technology and business processes. For customers, the best approach is to do some planning before taking the plunge, particularly when extensive systems changes may be involved.