Integrate to Compete

As an economy cools down, it's a basic truth that competition heats up. Businesses have to accept that margins are going to suffer, and that they're going to have to work even harder to attract and retain customers.

The imperatives of cost management and service innovation should ring some bells—these were the same things we were urged to consider at the height of the e-commerce boom. So the list of things we have to do hasn't actually changed that much.

At the heart of cost management and service innovation (and e-commerce as a whole for that matter) lies what is without question the biggest IT challenge that any business of any scale faces—the integration of lots of different systems, and sources of data.

Integration is extraordinarily difficult, and there are no short cuts. Despite what the enthusiastic promoters of EAI solutions, or B2B integration technologies would like you to believe, the products that you can buy don't yet offer anything like a complete solution. The best products do offer a great framework within which you can create the integrated information system that your heart desires—but it is up to you to create it.

One of the most common mistakes people make when considering EAI, and EAI technologies, is to vastly underestimate how much effort will be required to complete an EAI project. Interestingly enough another of the most common mistakes is to underestimate the benefits of EAI.

If you successfully integrate your information system then attributes like 'flexibility' and 'adaptability' become a lot easier to achieve—and you'll have a stable platform on which you can rapidly build new commerce functionality, to support supply-chain integration, b2b e-commerce, and the voracious demands of your b2c site for new functionality, and broader access to corporate data.

About the Author

Gary Barnett is IT research director at Ovum Ltd., a United Kingdom-based consulting firm.