In my two previous posts on the subject of automated mapping, I examined the importance of automation as a way to reduce design-time integration costs and delivery time, and the challenges of applying automation to the mapping process, in particular.
If you’ve used or seen a demo of our original EDI Integrator product for System i, you know that EXTOL has a long history of innovation in this area. In 1994, we introduced an automated source-target matching feature called “Automapping”, and three years later, the “Advanced Automapping” feature debuted, giving customers the ability to generate large portions of new maps, based on previous mapping examples.
Two years ago, we renewed our research into automated mapping methods, with the goal of delivering a new automated mapping implementation for EXTOL Business Integrator, the modern, cross-platform integration broker we introduced in 2003. But instead of simply replicating the Automapping and Advanced Automapping features, we set out to push the boundaries of state-of-the-art mapping automation, by targeting a much more stringent set of requirements:
- Mapping must be applicable to any mapping situation, including both familiar and unfamiliar document types and source-target combinations
- Both aspects of mapping – source-target element matching and generation of data transformations – should be supported by the automated mapping mechanism
- The automated mapping feature should be able to “learn” from and adapt past decisions to future mapping situations, incorporating best practices that evolve, over time
- Automated mapping should integrate unobtrusively in the UI, allowing a blending of human and automated mapping actions and results
- Users must retain control over the application of results generated by the automated mapping feature, with the ability to selectively apply generated matches and transformations
- The behavior of the automated mapping feature must be configurable to suit different business circumstances and user preferences
These requirements went far beyond the capabilities of available automated mapping implementations, and called for the invention of a new mapping architecture and new automated mapping methods.
The resulting implementation, “Smart Mapping”, was introduced in EXTOL Business Integrator v2.5, in October of 2010. Smart Mapping is an automated mapping implementation that integrates with the EXTOL Integration Studio Ruleset Editor, the drag-and-drop, rule-based mapping tool introduced originally in 2003. It consists of multiple automated matching and rule generation methods that are combined through a user-weighted fuzzy logic layer, and can generate mapping results at the element, structure, and document root levels.
What makes Smart Mapping stand out from past attempts to automate mapping is the ease with which powerful mapping methods can be brought to bear on virtually any B2B, data, or application mapping situation, without imposing new skill requirements or intruding on the user interaction model.
We believe that Smart Mapping is not only a boon for companies that need to deliver sophisticated integrations faster and more cost-effectively, but is also interesting and important technology, in its own right. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting additional insights into the Smart Mapping approach and the technology that underlies it. Stay tuned.