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Integrating Disparate Applications: Issues and Methods

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Many enterprises are incapable of rapidly responding to market demands. One way to address this challenge is to constantly reconsider improving services and products with new technologies; another way is to look into the complexity of managing the IT environment. Nadeem Ahmed gives you his take on these issues.
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Most large enterprises have complex heterogeneous IT systems, which have been running in production for a long time. These enterprises are facing some of the most difficult challenges in business today: dealing with global competition, reducing the cost of doing business, and rapidly developing new services and products. However, their capabilities in response to changes in business requirements are slow; hence, risking loss of market share is inevitable. Some changes are necessary in the process of developing applications in order to meet new business requirements for quick responses to market demands and to support faster, more accurate business processes and to provide consistent and meaningful information for management.

Business-IT Challenges and Issues

This article analyzes the issues and challenges for integrating disparate applications running in heterogeneous environments for an enterprise. One way to address these challenges is to constantly reconsider improving services and products with new technologies; another way is to look into the complexity of managing the IT environment. In Information Technology, however, there is a tendency to believe that all the answers to these issues lie in new/advanced technology. In my opinion, the answer to this problem is not all inclusive of advanced technology. For example, 15 years ago, IT did not develop too many different tools and methods to implement solutions that have emerged today, especially technologies supporting the Internet. For that reason, if all the latest technology—including hardware, software and modeling tools—had already been used in the past 15 years, shouldn't the information system be in a substantially better position than it is today? I believe not.

To understand the issue better, if we had Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) 15 years ago, perhaps we could have had more disparate-type applications running businesses. The system itself would have been unresponsive to business changes, there would have been as much inaccurate information, and it probably would have been expensive to maintain those systems. Therefore, the advanced technology by itself does not solve the major underlying problem, which is managing complexity in Information Technology.

If we look further at the situation regarding the complexity of the disparate-type applications from a bird's-eye-view, we find that the major source of complexity lies with its own business-processing logic. If you observe from another angle, the advanced technology and tools that are available today make new disparate applications even faster. Thus, if in the past we had developed a few hundred applications using the old tools, we could have developed a few thousand more applications using the new tools. As a result, the business would have had more functionality in its systems applications, and the problems that would have resulted as the aftermath of fast responses to business change and information accuracy would have been just as intractable. An alternative solution to this problem is to find a consistent approach toward integrating disparate applications, which must work consistently across many platforms and many technologies, so that IT can respond efficiently to new business requirements. This can be done by aligning IT with the company's business processes and transactions and keeping the information accurate throughout the enterprises.

The complexity of disparate applications in many organizations has become even more difficult to manage because there are vendors who have business with these companies—selling software, hardware, and tools. These businesses are selling their products in different departments of the enterprises in particular workstations (decentralized) in one department and mainframe (centralized) in another.

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