Out with the Old, In with the New

Why does this take place?
While new projects often get the most visibility, you also know that maintaining what is already in place is as essential as the new projects.  Delays in responding to customer changes or adapting to new versions of software can be a serious impact to your business.  ERP cut-overs, changing customer/vendor document formats and industry-mandated document changes (e.g. HIPAA) cause changes to our stable integrations.  These changes can cause business disruption or penalties if they cannot be dealt with effectively and efficiently.

How has it been dealt with in the past?
The brute-force way to deal with changing document requirements is to clone your maps and make the (hopefully) minor adjustments.  This approach works, but does not scale.  Consider a company with 10 trading partners.  Occasionally, a partner will upgrade their EDI maps to a new version.  This rate of change can be incorporated into the work schedule with relatively little impact.  Now, consider the company with 1000 or 5000 trading partners and an industry-wide mandate (such as HIPAA) is coming to bear.  Very quickly, the company could be faced with updating thousands of maps.  This effort would be measured in multiples of person-months.

To try to mitigate some of these challenges, companies have tried to introduce intermediate interfaces and processes, such as staging tables or canonical flat-file models.  While this approach can mitigate some of the pain felt with changing environments, it is a stopgap that only appears to help relieve the challenge of change by decoupling the internal back-end systems from the external systems.  But, let us think about where the frequency of change actually occurs; on the external-facing side of the interface.  So, while an intermediate interface isolates the internal back-end, it only shifts the problem on the diagram for the external interfaces, not reduce or eliminate it.

What can we do about it?
Let’s take a step back from the problem of the data mappings and discuss the real issue.  The problem is not the data map per-se.  The problem is that either the source or target schema has changed and needs to be incorporated into our existing data map.  We could just create new data maps, but that is labor-intensive, error-prone and time-consuming.

Think about the notion of creating a “relationship diagram” between the old and new schema formats.  With a “diagram” to the relationships between the old and new schema formats, we could mechanically (read: through automation) update the maps, preserving all of the intellectual assets that are contained within the map and simply deal with the deviations of the new schema.

The process of upgrading within same-schema syntaxes has been common in the EDI world and has expanded out to other syntaxes such as XML using XSLT or flat-file interfaces.  But let’s go one step further.  If we can create relationship diagrams between schemas of the same format, such as EDI, why not extend this capability to cross-schema migration?  As an example, consider the challenge of moving from a flat-file interface exposed by a legacy ERP to a new, modern ERP that exposes an XML interface.  New data maps could be developed for the EDI to XML interface, but since we have already mapped the EDI to the flat-file interface (and have 500 trading partners!), wouldn’t it be great to create a relationship diagram between the flat-file interface and the new XML interface and allow the system to update all of the maps?

The Migration Assistant in EXTOL Business Integrator v2.5 gives you exactly this power.  There is no reason anymore to clone/modify maps when you can reliably, and predictably update your existing assets to use the new formats.

Remember, staying ahead of the curve, with the insight to identify when and where change is needed, makes you more agile and able to provide value back up the line.  With a tool like the Migration Assistant, companies can embrace change, not fear it, and even leverage their ability to adapt to change as a competitive advantage by being easier to do business with than their competitors.

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