In-Depth

The Big Shift

EAI has grown up mainly as a technology and process for integrating installed applications; now organizations are looking for tools that focus on business-to-business integration.
Feel the earth move? That is the shift underway in the Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) marketplace and mindset. What started as a promise to boost efficiency and lower maintenance costs within an organization by reducing spaghetti code and point-to-point integration solutions has evolved into a business-to-business (B2B) integration focus.

Still a young market — filled with fast-growing pre-IPO and newly public young companies with cash in their pockets, as well as industry heavyweights such as IBM, Sun and Oracle — EAI solutions typically build on top of message-oriented middleware and offer a way to move, transform and map data within disparate applications. To varying degrees, EAI solutions also offer pre-built connectors or adapters to popular packaged apps, such as off-the-shelf ERP and customer relationship management (CRM) offerings, as well as message brokering and, most recently, process flow automation and workflow.

But while the message coming from EAI solutions vendors stresses external integration with customers, partners and suppliers, many companies are still in the preliminary stages of getting their own houses in order in terms of application integration.

"If you look at how EAI technology is being sold today, most of the conversation is about B2B," said Dan Sholler, senior program director, application delivery strategy, Meta Group, Stamford, Conn. "But if you look at how it's being deployed, it's for more traditional integration of apps internally. That's the starting point for a couple of reasons: The technology is easier to work with over something you have control over. And the extension of business processes to incorporate other parties is that much more complex if your internal processes aren't well automated and coordinated."

And yet, Sholler noted, businesses embarking on an integration strategy can see the e-future: "There is a growing market expectation that these integration projects will ultimately include external entities." In a recent survey conducted by the Hurwitz Group Inc., Framingham, Mass., for example, 42% of respondents cited e-business as a top motivation for EAI projects.

"E-business is now driving integration," said Zack Urlocker, vice president of marketing at Active Software, Santa Clara, Calif. "It's not integration just for technology's sake because the IT department thinks the technology is better than what they could do themselves. Fifty percent of our business is driven by e-business, and integration is the flip side of e-business," he noted. "You've got these best-of-breed apps, and you have to figure out how to leverage them, and customers don't care where the information is or how the IT system is set up."

Andrea Eubanks, product line manager at Tibco Software Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., said she sees a three-stage evolution for EAI solutions: consolidation, connectivity and community. Consolidation, she said, is an awareness that the entire enterprise must be integrated, which has already occurred. Connectivity is the bringing together of business processes, something that has emerged over the last eight months and will continue in 2000. Community, she said, is the next step, "where you will drive more value to customers, with portals and slicing and dicing of data, and the products you provide to customers based on individual needs. Viewers are becoming users, and then users will become part of your community."

Before that, though, EAI solutions need to mature more, said Meta Group's Sholler. "The technology, I don't believe, has caught up to where the marketing is now. The B2B capabilities within EAI products are extremely rudimentary. I don't think anyone claims to have a real handle on all the things necessary to create a complete B2B product."

For one, said Sholler, EAI solutions will need to incorporate B2B administration, "which none of these [vendors] really have today. It's the notion of trading partner management that goes back to the days of EDI. It's my belief that companies that will be successful in the B2B space will handle that management challenge."

Also key to B2B integration will be the automation of business processes, both internally and externally. In the near term, this is where many vendors and EAI customers will be focusing their efforts. "There's been a shift or recognition that process management is a significant part of an EAI platform; earlier iterations focused mostly on access mechanisms to different technologies," said Sholler. "That focus has shifted to provide process control mechanisms" that most of the EAI players offer, but to varying degrees. "From a feature/function standpoint," he added, "the process control mechanism will be the Y2K competitive battleground."

Moving tactically

While companies are moving toward integration, many are not at the point where they have automated their process flows or taken advantage of process flow functionality within EAI products. At Cambridge, Mass.-based Time0, a business unit of Perot Systems that creates digital marketplaces, Active Software's ActiveWorks is being used as the backplane that hooks together all the components of Time0's commerce application platform, said Brian Skidmore, manager of technology alliances. However, the company is not using Active's process flow engine at this time. "It may play a role in the next generation of our platform," said Skidmore.

Similarly, at Manulife Financial, headquartered in Toronto, the company is using IBM's MQSeries — which provides any-to-any connectivity from desktop to mainframe — for e-commerce, call center and desktop apps. The company developed the integration points between applications themselves, said Graham Hutchison, manager, development and software services. Hutchison's department, located in Manulife's Canadian headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario, supports more than 5,000 worldwide employees. Its e-commerce applications run on an IBM suite of products, including Domino, WebSphere and JDK. But other than MQSeries, Manulife is not using IBM's other EAI products, such as MQSeries Integrator for message-brokering, rules-based message routing, content transformation and formatting, or MQSeries Workflow for automating business processes.

"We don't have a business need for that," said Hutchison. "We have fairly well-developed standards that enable us to move things between apps. There has been some application logic flow written, but we haven't seen the need for the heavy-duty type of integration that MQSeries Integrator would give you. We're waiting for the business to say they need it."

Hutchison said the company is "moving tactically." In the e-commerce arena, "right now our suppliers and partners tend to have proprietary ways of doing things; we have to use four different mechanisms to talk to four different banks, for example," he noted. "What will drive us is the banks or other companies moving toward a platform for integration." Until then, he added, Manulife is focused on internal integration.

"Just about everything we do is based on a business need," he noted. "We have to be very careful where we spend our money." Like Manulife, many IT organizations have not gotten caught up with the EAI marketing hype, nor will they let it drive their business decisions. "Systems integration is more a tactic than a goal. It's an important thing when the business need dictates it," said Art Smith, director, customer and operational systems, TransCanada PipeLines Ltd., Calgary, Alberta. "It's more a best practice for us. General availability of information is key, single sourcing of information is key, and how fast we drive to that best practice is based on business need. A lot of IT organizations get blamed for leading and the business following. We're going there at the same pace the business needs us to be there. We will not force them into enterprise-wide integration."

TransCanada is prototyping the Fusion EAI suite from Forté Software, now a subsidiary of Sun Microsystems, to integrate a half-dozen off-the-shelf applications. Said Smith, "Two aspects of Fusion are interesting: integration through XML [the eXtensible Markup Language] and the work process engine [Conductor]."

In contrast to Manulife and Time0, Trans- Canada has done some work with process automation. "We started with [Forté Fusion] Conductor to automate things that are highly repetitive. It's very good for doing that; we've distributed over 3 to 4 million messages reliably. We're also automating the loading of disparate information sources and aggregating into a specialized Sybase database."

Smith would like to see the process engine go even further, however. "One thing, and I haven't seen anybody that understands this yet, is if the process flows could run as a simulation to test the system. And second, if you could pull up the process workflow in multiple levels and show the status. I don't want to simulate my workflow in another product." Ideally, he said, he would like to design, simulate and build the app process flow in one product.

EAI vendors are working toward either enhancing business process automation features or adding them in. Software Technologies Corp. (STC), Redwood Shores, Calif., for example, introduced business process modeling and managing in Version 4.0 of its e*Gate Business Integrator, and "another version coming out the first half of this year will continue that process," said Kate Mitchell, senior vice president of marketing and business development.

For its part, IBM will be bringing MQSeries Integrator and MQSeries Workflow closer together, "for a single unified view," said IBM's Rob Lamb, worldwide manager, business integration. And coming from IBM is a graphical-driven tool for business analysts "to allow them to define what happens in integration steps," he added.

IBM and other EAI players are also planning developments in other areas, intending to leverage their own particular strengths as well as beef-up in areas where they may be weak. Enhancements to EAI solutions include a closer coupling with development environments, more sophisticated connectors, deeper XML functionality, and a coming together with application servers and outsourcing.

Development environments

Jonathan McKay, vice president and general manager of the Sun Internet Applications and Performance Tools unit (which includes the former Forté Software), for example, said customers could expect to see a coming together of development environments, EAI solutions and portals. This vision, of course, coincides with Sun/ Netscape and Forté's combined portfolio, which includes development tools and EAI.

"There's a natural link between how you develop an application and how you integrate an application," noted McKay. "You will see closer convergence between the tools you need to develop and the tools you need to integrate." He said Forté would soon have an announcement pertaining to how these areas will come together. "We believe portals, development products and integration will all become part of the same conceptual picture. You will go to a portal and download a component to extend your EAI integration to your new application," said McKay.

Added Drew Engstrom, senior product manager at Forté, "We already know what the building block technologies are; Java and XML will play prominent roles in this vision. It will become redundant to say development plus integration. The new style of development is to assume you've got other packages you're integrating. [The] Forté [development environment] and Fusion already share a repository."

TransCanada uses both Forté and Fusion. "At the end of day, when people shift their paradigm to faster time to market, greater ability to evolve systems and lower maintenance costs, it will probably push integration out of the application and back to the infrastructure," said the company's Smith. "More seamless integration with that type of tool and the thing it creates will allow us to push that [integration] stuff outside the application."

More intelligent adapters/connectors

More intelligent adapters or connectors, where much of the integration between applications is "productized" and upgraded by the EAI vendor, is also a direction in which some players are heading. Coming from STC are intelligent bridges, which, according to the firm's Mitchell, offer more functionality than its e*Way prepackaged adapters and encompass a lot of the business rules and logic. "With e*Way, you still have a fair amount of work to do; you have basic connectivity. We're building the next level of connectivity with the intelligent bridge," said Mitchell.

Tibco is also looking to the next level of adapter, said the company's Eubanks, which it is calling templates. For instance, she said, if a firm has an SAP instance that is customer billing, and wants to integrate it with Clarify's notion of a customer, the template would do the mapping instead of the customer defining it. "The business logic comes through the template," she said. "What we're doing is business process connectivity vs. application-level detail."

Application servers

Application servers will play an increasing role in EAI B2B solutions. For example, in December, Cambridge, Mass.-based Oberon Software announced an alliance with application server vendor Bluestone Software, Philadelphia, in which Oberon will offer Bluestone's Sapphire/Web and Bluestone XML Suite as part of Oberon's e-Enterprise integration platform.

IBM is also moving to bring EAI and application server technology closer together. "We see a coming together of message broker technology and application server technology in the B2B space. That's why the B2B offerings we're working on now are a combination of these technologies," said the firm's Lamb.

Added Meta Group's Sholler, "I don't believe EAI players will ultimately provide complete solutions; they're looking to become platforms. I think they will compete with the app server market. If you look several years out, there will be packages of application integration services that will combine the kinds of services we now think of as application server services, along with the integration services provided by the EAI players. You may be able to buy this in pieces or all together. I expect IBM, BEA and Microsoft to be in this business. It's also an opportunity for Oracle and Sun."

Outsourcing/hosting/digital markets

Another opportunity for EAI players is the hosting or outsourcing of digital markets.

Tibco, for example, launched tibco.net about a year ago. "It started as a fluke," said the firm's Eubanks. She said Yahoo! wanted a portal solution but did not want to touch systems that had been "Y2K frozen." "We designed a strategic approach to a portal so a customer doesn't have to invest in the infrastructure. We'll host it or build it. It's now a strategic part of our business, and represents revenue to us," she added.

In addition, Tibco in December announced the TIB/PortalBuilder, a B2B portal construction tool that extends the TIB/ActiveEnterprise software suite.

IBM is looking more to an outsourcing model, said Lamb, creating and managing digital marketplaces. He said an announcement of this new offering will be forthcoming in several months, and will encompass portals and information marketplaces. "We will be working with standards groups to define a pile of XML-based documents that will enable invoicing, RFPs, etc.," said Lamb. "We'll also be announcing a business process framework over which these XML documents will move between partners; the transactional services, the workflow pieces, the security will be consumed within this framework. There will be technology that comes from the MQSeries family, some from the WebSphere application server and some from IBM research divisions." <>

 

XML

The eXtensible Markup Language is on every EAI provider's radar screen, as well as every customer's. If an EAI vendor has not announced some XML support already, rest assured it is probably coming. At Intermountain Health Care, Salt Lake City, "people are asking about it left and right," said Tara Larkin, interface team leader. The health-care organization uses STC's e*Gate for internal app integration and process flow, but will be moving to B2B, noted Larkin. "My understanding is the next version of e*Gate will offer XML support. We're very interested in using XML."

Even for EAI vendors that do support XML today, the functionality is "very basic," said Ross Altman, research director, application integration and middleware strategies at GartnerGroup, Stamford, Conn.

Time0 is "looking for a deeper integration of XML within [ActiveWorks] core product; they have that to some degree, but I'd like to see it more as an intrinsic part of what they do vs. an add-on," said Time0's Skidmore. "We believe XML provides a level of flexibility that is much needed in these complex digital marketplaces. The tools are pretty raw at this point, and I would like to push [XML] down to the middleware layer."

The ActiveWorks Business Exchange Server offers features such as document workflow, open support for XML, built-in security, graphical tools for mapping documents from one format to another, graphical tools for modeling business partner processes, implementation to support RosettaNet and EDI/XML, as well as an integration methodology.

And Wilton, Conn.-based Mercator Software (formerly TSI Software) in January announced the Mercator E-Business Broker suite that comprises Mercator Commerce Broker, Mercator Enterprise Broker and Mercator Web Broker. The suite offers industry-leading XML transformation, distributed business component deployment and end-to-end integration management.

Fast forward

As EAI players rush to add new functionality for B2B integration, mergers, acquisitions and partnerships are happening practically on a daily basis (see "Moves and shakes," p. 64). Will young and niche players be around for the long term? "Either they'll become affiliated with the platforms or they'll move up the chain to more comprehensive solution providers," predicts Meta Group's Sholler. "Some EAI players may gain enough critical mass so that they can duplicate what the big platform guys do, but I think five years from now the platform vendors will have most of this business. Does that mean EAI is not a good investment? No, you can get a lot of benefit by starting today," he added.

Sholler does offer some advice for those looking to implement an EAI solution today. "You need to approach your requirements from as much of an enterprise view as you can. The vast majority of these projects are sponsored because of a particular application need. You have to fight this constant battle where immediacy outweighs other considerations," he said. "You also have to recognize that integration is an ongoing process. The creation of an integration system, whether internally or outside the enterprise, by definition has a very high rate of flux. The focus should not be on building it once and right, but on putting the processes in place."

Colleen Frye is a freelance writer based in Bridgewater, Mass.

Moves and shakes

Mergers and acquisitions, partnerships and co-opetition, and IPOs are par for the course in the young and high-flying EAI market.

IPOs are generating a lot of money for EAI players to expand, said Ross Altman, research director, application integration and middleware strategies at GartnerGroup, Stamford, Conn. This is helping smaller players keep up with the bigger vendors. "If they need more technology they can acquire it and overpay to get it; I expect to see a bit more of that," said Altman. "The [vendors] who aren't public yet will be challenged; they won't have the proceeds from an IPO to fund a rapid rollout."

In 1999, both Santa Clara, Calif.-based Active Software and Mountain View, Calif.-based Vitria Technology went public.

And there has been a lot of merger and acquisition activity during the past 12 months:

  • New Era of Networks (Neon), Englewood, Calif., made four acquisitions: VIE Systems Inc., an EAI software company; SLI International AG, a worldwide provider of SAP R/3 implementation, training, support and business consulting services; MicroScript Inc., a supplier of application integration software on the Windows NT platform; and Convoy Corp., a provider of application integration software for PeopleSoft applications.

  • Sun Microsystems Inc. acquired Forté Software Inc. in August.

  • Active Software Inc. announced an agreement in January 2000 to acquire Alier Inc., a provider of EAI software for the banking and financial services industry. In February, the company bought TransLink Software and Premier Software Technologies Inc.

  • Wilton, Conn.-based Mercator Software Inc. (formerly TSI Software Ltd.) acquired Novera Software.

Partnerships and co-opetition also continue unabated. Most recently:

  • EAI solution vendor Candle Corp., Santa Monica, Calif., will embed Tibco's TIB/ Rendezvous APIs in its CandleNet Roma E-business Platform computing architecture. TIB/Rendezvous's publish-and-subscribe technology is the foundation of TIB/Active- Enterprise, Tibco's EAI suite of products.

  • IBM announced an agreement with Extricity Software Inc. to resell and market Extricity's AllianceSeries B2B e-commerce software. The company also invested in Ariba and i2 to gain B2B technologies.

  • Privately held Oberon Software, Cambridge, Mass., announced an agreement with Philadelphia-based Bluestone Software to sell Bluestone's Sapphire/Web and Bluestone XML Suite as part of Oberon's e-Enterprise integration platform.

— Colleen Frye

EAI Glossary

As you begin talking with EAI vendors, it probably would not hurt to know a few of the buzzwords. Master the following list, and you will at least sound like you know what you are doing.

ADAPTORS (also called Connectors): The plug-in interfaces that can be added to major commercial applications, allowing easier integration with other systems. Adaptors allow users to integrate transactions more tightly than by using standard application programming interfaces.

APPLICATION SERVER: Software that sits between a Web server and a back-end application, providing a scalable, managed link for users entering from the Web. Application servers may be used to integrate some back-end applications, and to provide front-/ back-end integration.

BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS (B2B) INTEGRATION: Refers to application integration between companies, rather than within companies. In EAI terms, this is likely to be based on open, Internet-type technologies, and will use recognized open standards such as XML.

BUSINESS PROCESS MODELER: A high-level modeling and management function implementers of EAI are finding increasingly necessary. It gives users the ability to model the routing and mapping of messages, to plan new integration projects, and to build rules, systems management and workflow into the message brokering or EAI platform.

COLLABORATIONS: Refers to the tight one-to-one linkage of business processes and transactions, usually where more than one application, such as an ERP or sales-force automation package, is involved. CrossWorlds Software uses the term for its high-level integration of processes.

COMPONENT BROKER: A piece of software that can call up components or objects from any location in the IT architecture, so that they may be used by the application that needs them. The term is largely synonymous with an object request broker or ORB.

DATA TRANSFORMATION: The process of taking data from one database, application or message, cleaning it up, reformatting it, and making it usable by another.

FORMATTER: Part of a message broker that is capable of dynamically recognizing the message formats from different applications. These can then be routed or transformed as appropriate.

FRAMEWORK: A complete EAI solution. A product set that incorporates messaging, a broker or hub, a transformation engine, adaptors, business process integration and modeler/workflow. Frameworks, from suppliers such as IBM, Active, TSI (now known as Mercator) and Candle usually incorporate some third-party products.

HUB AND SPOKE: A type of EAI architecture. A number of different systems all link to one central hub, which carries out the transformation and routing of messages. This avoids large numbers of point-to-point links. The best-known proponent of this approach is Constellar.

MAPPING: The logical process of planning and linking different formats and transaction types. Mapping software is often used for management only, and may not necessarily carry out the actual conversion work.

MESSAGE BROKER: Software that takes messages from one application and redistributes them, perhaps after applying some business rules and some reformatting, to other applications. An example is Neon's NeoNet.

MESSAGE QUEUEING: (Sometimes shortened to "messaging.") Software that takes messages and ensures that they are delivered to the right application, according to the right priorities, with an audit trail. Messaging is usually synchronous or one-way, meaning it will send a message without waiting for a reply, making it more resilient.

MIDDLEWARE: An all-encompassing term that describes software used to link two or more different applications or databases. EAI vendors hate to hear their products referred to as middleware.

POINT-TO-POINT: Direct, two-way integration between applications, as opposed to using a hub-and-spoke model.

PUBLISH AND SUBSCRIBE: A type of message brokering in which one application sends out or broadcasts messages to a message broker, and others can be programmed to receive (or subscribe) to these messages. The two applications are not directly linked.

TRANSACTION PROCESSING (TP) MONITOR: Software that is used to manage large numbers of transactions, often accessing several different applications and databases. TP software, of which the best-known example is IBM's CICS, is increasingly viewed as middleware because of its role in providing one front-end environment for many long transactions using multiple application back-end systems.

TRANSPORT LAYER: The basic, lower layer of middleware—software that is used to send, receive and route messages or components from one application to another.

WORKFLOW: Software that lays down the order in which integrated transactions must occur. For example, a credit card may need to be checked using one application before a delivery order is created from another. Workflow functions are increasingly being introduced into message brokering software.

— John K. Waters

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