The Big Shift
- By Colleen Frye
- March 12, 2001
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.
|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
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
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
"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
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."
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
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
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
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
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 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
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."
Another opportunity for EAI players is the hosting or outsourcing of
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
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
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.
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
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
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:
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.
Microsystems Inc. acquired Forté Software Inc. in
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
Conn.-based Mercator Software Inc. (formerly TSI Software
Ltd.) acquired Novera Software.
and co-opetition also continue unabated. Most recently:
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.