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What Is Integration?

This seems like a simple question, but what exactly is integration? Here are a couple of examples of how others have answered this question:

  • "The extent to which various information systems are formally linked for sharing of consistent information within an enterprise"4
  • "Seamless integration of all information flowing through a company"5

A careful review of these and other definitions reveals a number of common themes that describe the essence of integration:

  • Formally linked: Communication between systems is standardized.
  • Seamless: Complexities are invisible to end users.
  • Coordinated manner: Communication is disciplined.
  • Synergy: Value is added to the enterprise.
  • Single transactions that spawn multiple updates: There is master management of data.
  • Fewer number of systems: The cost of ownership is lower.
  • Non-duplicated data: The focus is on eliminating redundancy and reducing costs of management.

The most comprehensive definition of integration we have come across is in Lester Singletary's doctoral dissertation.6 It provides a rich definition by examining the domain of integration from four perspectives: (1) what integration is in terms of its attributes or operational characteristics, (2) the benefits or resultant outcomes of effective integration efforts, (3) the risks or challenges that arise from integrations, and (4) the metrics that provide a measure of objectivity concerning the integrated environment. Figure 1.1 has been adapted from Singletary's paper and serves as a foundation for our view of integration in this book.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 Definition of integration

To put all this together, our definition of integration, therefore, is as follows:

Integration: An infrastructure for enabling efficient data sharing across incompatible applications that evolve independently in a coordinated manner to serve the needs of the enterprise and its stakeholders.

  • Infrastructure: a combination of people, process, policy, and technology elements that work together (e.g., highway transportation infrastructure)
  • Efficient data sharing: accessing data and functions from disparate systems without appreciable delay to create a combined and consistent view of core information for use across the organization to improve business decisions and operations
  • Incompatible applications: systems that are based on different architectures, technology platforms, or data models
  • Evolve independently: management decisions to change applications (or parts of an application) are made by different organizational groups or external suppliers on independent timelines that are not controlled by a master schedule
  • Enterprise: the organization unit that is the focus of the integration effort; it could be a department, division, an entire company, or part of a supply chain
  • Stakeholders: the customers of the enterprise, its owners, and its employees, including management, end users, and IT professionals
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