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In this paper, the author attempts to shed some light on the realities of Enterprise Integration projects, which, not unlike many big ERP and CRM implementation have a high failure rate or do not deliver the benefits originally anticipated. After examining the common misconceptions and mistakes made before, during and after an integration project, a set of guidelines that will all but guarantee that such projects are successful and deliver on their promise.
Figure 1 - Integration Scenario (Single Site)
Integrating disparate systems within many organizations as well as connecting to business system of customers, suppliers and other business partners has become a necessity. The reasons are different for almost every type of organization, but some of the common drivers are:
While these needs are very widespread and many organizations have undertaken some type of integration project, the failure rate is still very high. Some research puts the failure rate at well over 50%.
The first step to assure your organization is not in the group that has failed is to identify the root causes for failing implementations.
An integration project
can fail in different ways. For someone who is looking for
“big cost savings”, the project may be a failure if the expected
ROI is not realized. From a technical perspective, the project is a failure if
the attempted integration simply doesn’t work. For others, including users,
the project may be a failure if it creates new problems, or if the system is
not adopted the way it was anticipated.
The underlying causes
of these types of failures include the following, rather common, types:
Organizations often require a detailed ROI analysis to determine the viability of a given project. While this is an important thing to do, a few unforeseen slips in schedule or budget may turn a viable project into a money loser.
A number of these
problems arise from the fact that Enterprise Integration is a considerably
young discipline and, therefore, best practices have yet
to spread and
like they have with some other expertise domains. Also, because of the complex
and heterogeneous nature of integration projects, it is more difficult to
develop a detailed, step-by-step approach, which has been used in implementing
certain ERP solutions with considerable success.
This should not
suggest that it is not worth making a strong effort to develop and mature such
an approach, nor should it lead you to believe that no one has developed any
Rather than describe a specific implementation of such a methodology, we will explore some interesting realities of integration, followed by a series of guidelines for integration project success in the following sections.
technological advances in today’s complex world, it is not necessarily what
we don’t know, but what we believe to know that can be found as the root
cause of problems. The following concepts may seem obvious, yet we may not
necessarily consider them when approaching an integration project:
Keeping these ideas in mind and applying common sense when exploring how to implement an integration solution will significantly improve the success of your project.
This section contains some strategies that have come from ongoing experience and refining an approach to successful EAI implementations. Experience has shown that there is no such thing as a ‘doomed project’. With the right approach, discipline and patience, each integration project can be successful. The following sections outline strategies that have been used to consistently mitigate risks, meet deadlines and budgets and deliver the desired solutions.
Because of the many variables involved with technology projects and the ‘soft’ nature of attributing value to some of the benefits, determining ROI on integration projects is not an exact science. However, there is a strategy to ensure that the ROI is either realized quickly or the project can be halted.
integration project is comprised of a number of ‘integration points’, i.e.
a number of different transactions or other data movements that
integration point first allows the project team to measure the realized return
against what was expected and expectations for the remaining integration
points can be adjusted and are usually accurate.
We have determined earlier in this paper that technology is not the largest challenge anymore. Statistics across multiple projects we have implemented shows that data semantics and data type compatibility make up bulk of issues (up to 85% of all issues on a given project). Therefore, it is critical to structure the project accordingly and ensure that resources working on the project have the skill set to work on these types of issues. While knowing technologies and standards like relational database systems, XML, EDI, etc. are very important, it is the ability to understand data in the business context across these standards and technologies that will get problems resolved and projects done.
While integration projects are almost always complex, their realization does not have to be complicated and risky. Many integration projects are doomed to fail before they start due to unrealistic expectations. These problems can be manifested by unrealistic demands from the project sponsor, but often are rooted in underestimating the complexity of the task at hand.
To implement and integrate systems well takes time and money, but if approached right, can almost be guaranteed to be on time, on budget and deliver the ROI, given the expectations at the beginning of the project have been realistic. The following section on project management shows tactics to accomplish that.
There are a number of
different ways to structure and execute projects that increase the chances for
success significantly. The project manager should use as many of the following
technology for the integration project, do your homework. Use external help
from an unbiased expert. Make sure to consider the following factors when
discussed above significantly reduce the risk of failure and surprises.
It is always good to implement risk-mitigating steps. The following
list summarizes risk-mitigating measures, some of which have been discussed
The sections so far have elaborated on the issues involved with integration projects and ways to deal with them. The following sections present a structured approach to integration projects that can be adopted for any project.
This final section is intended to summarize the pieces that you need for an integration project to be successful.
There are a number of
factors that make a project successful and probably too many to be listed
here. The following items should be considered important and cannot be missed
on any project:
1. Executive Sponsorship
Unless senior management explicitly sponsors a project and emphasizes its importance to the business, the project has a high chance of failure. Resources then get diverted, users and stakeholders do not fulfill tasks and little issues become reasons for major hold-ups. It needs to be ensured that senior management clearly supports a project and keeps showing interest in the progress and success for the duration.
2. User Buy-In
As previously discussed, many stakeholders, including end-users are affected by the integration either directly or due to business process changes. It is critical for the successful implementation and adoption of a new system to ensure users have input into the project and buy into the solution.
3. A Comprehensive Methodology
A methodology will serve as a road-map through the project. Unless the entire team knows the end-goal and understands what they need to do next, and why, the project will suffer. The methodology should not be a bureaucratic burden, but an important tool to help the team be more effective and efficient.
4. Project Management Tools
To execute the project successfully, the project manager has to use critical tools that help him or her keep track of progress, critical issues, trends and developments. Such tools include issues logs, status reports, risk tracking, budget tracking, Gantt Charts, and statistics (e.g. bug-count trend), especially on larger projects.
5. Milestone Reviews
Milestone reviews should be done at the very least, during the end of every project phase and more often if the scope of the project is very large. During milestone reviews, the project sponsors and the manager need to review progress, issues and deviations from the original plan. It is critical to review any potential changes that may affect the project when the project lasts for a long period of time. Assumptions that have been made at the beginning of the project may not hold true nine months later.
6. Discipline and Patience
While this sounds logical, many projects get in trouble due to the lack of these two components. Often, external pressures or internal impatience lead team members to cut corners and act as ‘cowboys.’ It is on the project sponsors and the project manager to understand these factors and resist the easy fix. In the vast majority of cases, shortcuts end up costing multiples in time and money instead of what was intended to be saved.
7. The Right Project Staff
While all the above
are critical components, the most important one is definitely having the right
talent on the project. Unless the team members have the expertise, the
interpersonal skills and other critical skills, the project will not be
In the next and final section, a simple framework is presented, which has been used repeatedly to successfully complete integration projects of varying size and nature.
overview illustrates one way of addressing the challenges typically
encountered when integrating different types of systems in a systematic and
organized fashion. Because of the widespread use of the de-facto industry
standard Unified Process and the Unified modeling language (UML), the example
is based on the Unified Process and UML.
There are four main phases in the methodology, which will be executed sequentially:
Integrating different systems, data sources and even external trading partners has become a necessity in many organizations today. Integration projects are often complex and can fail for a variety of reasons. However, if approached correctly, integration projects can consistently be successful and deliver on the business benefits that merit undertaking such projects in the first place.
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