Small- versus Large-Scale Provisioning

As applied to business integration, the term “provisioning” has many meanings, but overall, it refers to the process of defining integration endpoints and establishing connections and integration processes between them.   If an integration service that connects a pair of endpoints is simple and tightly constrained – for example, a data syndication service with a fixed process model and limited output options – provisioning can be as simple as selecting from a fixed list of connection and data format delivery options, and specifying the delivery endpoint’s address.

In most cases, however, business integration provisioning involves more steps, because the business problem to be solved requires tailored integration between some set of sources and targets, e.g., integration of an XML transaction set with a Warehouse Management System.  Those steps might include definition or specification of endpoints, communication and interface connections, documents / messages and envelopes, data routing, business processes, and data transformations.  By combining building blocks that implement such object types, you can solve most kinds of business-to-business, application, and data integration problems.

The scope, complexity, and duration of the provisioning process are very much dependent on your choice of implementation tools.  While integration provisioning can be implemented using conventional programming languages and tools, model-driven integration tools offer considerably more power and productivity, because they enable specification of integration applications to occur at a higher level, using predefined object types like business processes, events, transformations, and adapters.

Even so, there are limits to the productivity one can achieve with such object-level modeling environments.  Data transformations, for example, are commonly produced using visual mapping tools that support drag-and-drop associations between source and target elements and enable specification of functions (arithmetic, string manipulation, database lookup, external program or service call, etc.) that produce the desired output result in each target element.  A similar level of detailed effort may be needed when defining source and target documents, endpoints, and other integration object deliverables.

Scaling up this kind of object-at-a-time provisioning approach to very large projects, or even worse to large scale conversions (e.g., upgrading or replacing an ERP system for which a great deal of integration time and effort have been invested), while less arduous than conventional programming, can still consume very large amounts of IT staff time, and can introduce significant deadline risk.

That’s where “large-scale provisioning” comes into play.  The idea behind large-scale provisioning is to apply automation to parts of the provisioning process, operating on collections of integration objects at one time, rather than operating on individual objects, for example:

  • Endpoint provisioning tools that can generate many endpoint definitions at once, by analyzing EDI instance data (sample interchanges from partners)
  • Automated metadata importers and generators that produce document definitions containing hundreds or thousands of typed and structured elements
  • Intelligent mapping utilities that can generate many transformation rules at a time, based on a combination of mapping history, property matching heuristics, and predefined source-target element associations
  • Migration utilities that can automate modification of multiple transformation rules in multiple maps at a time, when versions, structures, or syntax changes occur in source or target documents

In a way, large-scale provisioning does for integration design-time processes in IT what business process automation does for operational processes in the business – by applying automation to tedious, low-level tasks, it increases organizational productivity and efficiency, reduces errors, and speeds the delivery of integration results.  Depending on the integration project at hand, large-scale provisioning can save up to 70% of your project time (even more, in some cases).  That translates to the ability to deliver more projects with less resource and time, reduced project risk (less chance of delivering projects late and less chance that projects, when delivered, no longer meet current business requirements), and earlier onset of business benefits (e.g., faster onboarding of customer transactions tied to new revenue).

In a few weeks, you’ll hear more about large-scale provisioning from EXTOL, as we launch EXTOL Business Integrator v2.5.  Stay tuned for more!

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