Managing the Impact of Unexpected Document Change

Many enterprise integration solutions meet the mark at implementation time, and even adequately provide the tools needed to monitor and maintain the day to day activities. But, what happens when unexpected changes occur at the document level?  Sometimes the metadata that defines a document’s structure and content changes.  This can happen for a number of reasons including different trading partner specifications, application interface upgrades and back-end system replacements.   More often than not, the changes are minimal and localized to the existing document.  The syntax remains the same, but there may be additions or deletions to the existing structure, such as the addition of a content model to an XML document.  There may be changes to individual elements, such as the data types, lengths, etc.  In such cases, the map may need to be updated, but can usually be handled rather quickly with minimal effort.

Once in a while, the structure of the document will change.  Again, the syntax stays the same, but an entire section may be relocated creating a different hierarchical structure, such as completely relocating an XML content model to a different section of the document.  This type of change can be a bit more complicated to address.  Most of the time, the maps associated to the altered structure are also broken and have to be corrected.  There is generally more effort required to address this type of change than the former.  And occasionally, the entire document syntax changes, such as a conversion from a flat file interface to an XML interface.  In this case, a great deal of effort is required to address it because the associated maps have to be completely reworked and in some cases recreated.  The impact of this change can be felt in many areas of the implementation and can impact business operations.

All of these types of changes occur in business to business (B2B) integrations, but similarly chaotic and invasive syntax changes can also occur in application to application (A2A) integrations.  Imagine a scenario where a complete integration solution was successfully implemented using a flat file interface from a legacy ERP to other applications, such as a Warehouse Management System, or the Customer Management System or even directly to trading partners.  This system has been handling internal integration needs for many years.  And now the legacy ERP is being replaced with a completely new software package which uses an XML interface.  This means that the entire integration solution will have to either be updated or replaced.  Both options can be expensive, cumbersome and require a lot of valuable time.  The most common way to address this is to manually replace the flat file metadata with the XML metadata for every map that was affected by the change and rework it.  And in this case, it is pretty much all of them.

One approach to solving this problem could be to invoke a process that would match the metadata from one document to the metadata of another and apply the resulting associations to the corresponding maps.  If the integration solution happens to be the EXTOL Business Integrator, this approach is already implemented in a tool called the Migration Assistant.  The Migration Assistant is a tool that can associate the metadata of any document to the metadata of another with the same or different syntax category.  For the scenario mentioned above, the flat file interface can be associated to the XML interface.  This association process can be performed manually, or the auto-associate feature can be used to automatically associate all of the flat file metadata to the XML metadata, which simply means that each record or field in the flat file metadata will be matched to a replacement element in the XML metadata.   Once this association is created, it can be applied to every map on the system that uses the flat file metadata as the source or target resulting in the generation of maps that support the new XML document types.  This not only saves countless hours of work, but also reduces the impact of document changes overall, and lets you update production integrations faster and more reliably.

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