Author Archives: Mark Denchy

Gathering Requirements

Requirements Gathering for Integration Projects

Requirements Gathering is a complex process with the purpose of defining a list of capabilities that we expect to meet, once the project is completed.  Given that very “business-y” definition, let’s explore the process of Requirements Gathering and how it relates to Integration projects.  In this blog, I will start to address the approach I use to gather requirements and then we’ll apply that approach in subsequent blogs to use cases.

Simply creating a punch-list of features/capabilities/behaviors is not enough to fully define the requirements of an Integration project. Just meeting the defined expectations of A, B, C and so on requires a much deeper dive into what is truly going on, both within the organization and externally with other integration partners (customers, vendors and industry consortiums).

The Requirements Gathering process usually starts when a project is created.  In formal organizations, this initiates with the approval of a project charter, identifying a project Sponsor.  In smaller organizations, this can be either a tactical (reactive) or a strategic (forward-thinking) effort directed by a department head or line-of-business manager.  Once the project is initiated, the scope of the project is usually defined and documented. Continue reading

End to End File Governance

When thinking about data movement, security, traceability and the industries that need these capabilities, I immediately am drawn to the financial and health-care sectors.  However, that is changing.

Having the ability to govern your data from the time it crosses your “corporate border” through its lifecycle and ultimate delivery to an external consumer is becoming a critical business function.  No longer the domain of expensive infrastructure, it is now possible to implement architectures that ensure guaranteed delivery of data in a secure manner.

But what about monitoring and tracking the data while it is within your borders?  Important questions that need to be answered include “Has the data been accessed and by whom?”, “Has the data been modified while at rest?”, and most importantly, “Where has the data been after it arrived?” This is mission-critical because we consume data in many ways while it is under our control.

End-to-End File Governance can address these very questions in a platform-independent way by monitoring data in motion and at rest.  Think of it as offering a GPS tracker for your data; monitoring everywhere the file has been and who has interacted with it.  

What is a Map?

What is a map?  Most would answer that it is a collection of relationships between a source document and a target document.  This implies that the relationships are at the data-item level.  But, isn’t it true that a map, at its essence, is a repository of business knowledge showing the relationship between business elements?

Let’s consider a small company in the United States supporting the Order-To-Cash process.  As the company grows, it realizes that it will greatly benefit from the efficiencies of exchanging EDI (ANSI X12) with its trading partners to process orders, send out shipment notices and submit invoices. So, it implements EDI using X12 documents.

Then, the disruptive business event happens.  The company expands their market penetration into Europe and begins trading with European partners.  But, there is an immediate challenge.  European companies typically do not trade using X12.  The European standard is EDIFACT.  The company now has to accommodate this new standard.  To further complicate matters, customers in the United Kingdom want to exchange EDI using TRADACOMS and EANCOM.  Finally, pushing the EDI team to the brink of desperation are the customers from Asia-Pacific (APAC) that do not use any EDI.  They want to exchange flat-files, XML or even more daunting…spreadsheets.

This scenario would cause great stress in any IT group.  But, let’s think about the challenge from a different perspective.  Going back to the idea that our X12 maps are repositories of business knowledge, can we leverage that knowledge to help us accommodate the business needs of the company’s growth?

The answer is yes.  If we could create relationships between our X12 document structures (schemas) and the new document formats, it is possible to “transform” the actual maps into new maps.  This is exactly what the Migration Assistant in the EXTOL Business Integrator does.  It is far easier to create relationships between two similar documents (X12 850 Purchase Order and EDIFACT ORDERS) than to create actual data maps to move data between two dissimilar data formats.  If a migration tool that could accomplish schema-to-schema migration were available, the challenge shifts to become a mechanical issue and may just require minor adjustments to bring the support for new formats online.  Reducing the complexity of the migration process also speeds time to market and greatly reduces risk because the company is re-using their proven business knowledge.

Canonical models, not just your ordinary middle-man

Deciding how to integrate application data in a way that limits the impact of application changes can be a serious challenge.  Direct, point-to-point integrations are efficient and can be implemented rapidly, but they ignore the notion of interface resiliency.  To complicate matters, modes of data transport such as files or messages and whether the data crosses business domain boundaries expand the complexity of “normalizing” the information.

These challenges occur in both the Business-to-Business (B2B) and Application-To-Application (A2A) domains.  In the B2B space, several data “standards” have emerged to help coordinate interoperability efforts such as ANSI X12 and UN/ECE EDIFACT from the EDI world and RosettaNet for XML content. Integrating to such standard formats limits the impact of application-level changes made by either partner. Continue reading

Rethinking Information for the Mobile Form

First it was personal digital assistants (PDAs) and then it was cell phones… now the world is starting to embrace tablets.  We live in a world where we are more “connected” than ever before.  Our devices cater to immediate gratification by offering access to our email, the spontaneous purchase from Amazon and even faster communication with texts and tweets.  Personally, I am excited that soon I will be able to start my washing machine from my iPhone!  Since we’re tethered to our devices, it was inevitable that the business world would recognize the opportunity to improve the efficiency of managing our day-to-day operations.

But how can we leverage this wonderfully connected, always online technology to manage our digital landscape better?  To understand the opportunities, let’s think about our daily experiences in our “personal life” with our connected technologies and then draw some parallels to our “working life”.  In our “personal life”, we receive emails, texts and monitor Twitter feeds of our favorite sports teams, celebrities or passing interests.  When things happen in the world, as long as we are “subscribed”, we can be notified about them. Continue reading