Category Archives: Hands-on Integration

When to Consider an Integration Platform

As businesses grow and evolve, so do the internal applications, systems and processes they depend on to run their operations. In addition to IT changes, they also encounter changes with departments, people, trading partners and other internal and external responsibilities. The impact of these changes is often not realized until it reaches a “Critical Point.” The Critical Point could be anything from performance degradation of both systems and people to losing business because of it. Some of the contributors could be the processes, the flow of data or even the format of the data being exchanged between internal and external applications (including cloud) and trading partners. This may signify the need for an Integration Platform in your organization. Factors that affect the need for an Integration Platform are specifically:

·Organizational changes – There may be people leaving, new people being added to your company or departmental responsibilities shifting. When there are organization changes at this level, domain expertise can be lost leading to process paralysis.

·New trading partner mandates – To start doing business with a new trading partner, you must accommodate their data and communication requirements.

·Customer retention – To keep current customers, accommodating their business requests is critical and may include modifications to the data format or a new format implementation.

·Executive mandate – New directives may have been received from the executive team to consolidate all redundant data and/or siloed applications.

·Business process improvement –Improving performance and efficiency of your business processes may require redefinition of the processes that move data throughout the organization and to/from trading partners.

·Systems modernization – The current implementation may include many legacy solutions for each partner or application that is reliant on fragile custom coded solutions. Consider modernizing systems to remove the dependency on custom coded solutions.

·Automation – Automating the transfer of data between your applications and partners would improve reliability and data safety.

·Electronic transfer – Compliance with certain e-commerce or government mandates could drive an opportunity for innovation.

If any of the above factors are occurring in your organization, it is time to consider adding an Integration Platform to accommodate the changes before your systems reach that “Critical Point”.

Automate the most important business processes in your company

Common business processes are performed within both large and small companies each and every day.  Many of these processes are manual, but they don’t have to be.  They can be automated.  Numerous companies use business process automation to initiate theses common processes and see them through from end to end.   What exactly is business process automation?  Business process automation is defined by Gartner as the automation of complex business processes and functions beyond conventional data manipulation and record-keeping activities, usually through the use of advanced technologies.   It not only includes the automated execution, but also the composition and the integration of the processes within the company.

So, why automate?    The simple answer is to save time and money.   By replacing manually initiated processes with software, companies can realize a reduction in errors, an enhanced work and process flow, lower expenses and improved efficiency.  Companies can basically do more with less which directly affects the bottom line. Continue reading

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.

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Linking systems through a single integration platform gets your business moving faster

Over the past few years, there have been many changes in the landscape of enterprise integration.  In the mid to late 90s, there were multiple tools to handle the different integration requirements for data, business to business (B2B) and application to application (A2A).  This meant if your company had to meet all of these integration requirements, you had to either code your own solutions or purchase and support multiple products to solve that one problem, Integration.

Your first integration requirement may have been B2B.  Why?  Mainly because your largest trading partner told you to do it.  They were changing the way they do business and requested that you stop calling in and faxing your orders to them and instead, start sending them electronically.  Most often they would specify the data format, which could be EDI or flat file and later XML.  This single request, with possibly an unrealistic deadline, lead to a quick fix to accommodate this partner.   It wasn’t planned; but it had to happen.  Current projects had to be put on hold and re-prioritized in order to fulfill this request.  Once implemented, the fire is out and you could go back to business.  But, as time goes on, more and more of your trading partners are requesting to do business this way.   This tactical solution soon became an integral part of your normal business activities. Continue reading