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Systems Integration


In today’s complex and connected world, properly integrating systems is a matter of urgency. More so as management now has the expectation that the IT department must contribute to the bottom line. This is where systems integration plays a crucial role. Effective systems integration helps IT departments contribute to organisations’ business goals in various ways:

  • Streamlines business processes

  • Increases organisational efficiency

  • Saves costs managing IT systems

  • Optimises use of company-wide business systems

  • Enhances interdepartmental communication

  • Provides management with a 360 degree view of your organisation

  • Improves insight into business performance

  • Enables increased strategic use of software systems

  • Empowers leaders to rapidly respond to changing customer demands

  • Supports an agile and flexible response to changing market conditions

  • Facilitates astute decision-making

The Traditional Approach POINT-TO-POINT INTEGRATION The traditional approach to systems integration, often referred to as point-to-point integration, is the process of integrating subsystems according to their functionality by creating functional entities (silos).

Traditionally, systems integrators would need to hand-code each point of the integration process to enable data to move from point A to point B. This intensive code-based practice becomes problematic when only one system or application needs to be changed, yet every connection to that point also has to be changed. This results in higher development and maintenance costs as integration points have to be renewed to identify how the new interface works with the other systems. Due to the exclusive nature of this process, organisations often spend an exorbitant amount of time rewriting the code to enable their systems to effectively integrate.

For example, if an organisation needs the client name for their CRM system, the CRM system connects to the Accounts system which then feeds the data back to the CRM system. However, once the organisation decides to change the CRM system, developers need to renew all connecting points within the process (not only the connection to the Accounts system).

Rise of SOA ENTERPRISE SERVICE BUS (ESB) APPROACH The ESB approach is used to design and implement interaction and communication between mutually interacting software applications in Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA).

The main aim of an ESB is to cut down the number of connections and therefore the number of interfaces to only one connection per subsystem that is directly connected to an ESB. In other words, the ESB is able to replace all direct contact with the applications on the ‘bus’, so that all communications take place via the ESB. This is beneficial when an organisation wishes to replace a certain system within the integration process as most integration points will remain intact.

The additional advantage of the ESB approach is that it addresses integration problems in a way that maximises the re-use of services and maintains flexibility. This is because it provides support for interaction between heterogeneous services and interfaces that might be mismatched, or that might change over time.

Many organisations prefer this approach to the traditional method as it provides a number of advantages:

  • Cost of integration is cut as systems can easily be replaced. Developers simply change one system without affecting other systems, and only need to reconnect with the ESB.

  • Loose coupling provides extreme flexibility. Since systems are loosely connected, organisations can easily adapt to requirement changes without impacting all systems.

  • Focuses on configuration rather than integration coding. This affords the ability to completely replace one subsystem with another subsystem which provides similar functionality but exports different interfaces. The only action required by organisations is to implement the new interface between the ESB and the new subsystem.

What’s currently happening in the real world with the ESB/SOA approach

  • 57% of executives expect to see cost reductions as a result of SOA, while 27% cite code re-use and 23% expect to increase business agility. (Saugatuck)

  • 25% of mainframe companies have SOA efforts now in progress and another one-third are planning or considering SOA. At least half say they are or will employ mainframes in a central role in SOA. (Unisphere Research/SHARE)

  • 52% of current enterprise SOA users say it has delivered enough benefit that they plan to expand its use, while only 1% of SOA users say they are cutting back on SOA because they see little or no benefit. (Forrester Research)

Examples of real world application of SOA: MODERNISING LEGACY SYSTEMS

  • By adopting the SOA approach to legacy systems integration, State of New York estimates it saved $1 million in development costs. (IT Business Edge)

  • Vermont’s Agency of Human Services is using an SOA approach to integrate its range of human services and to better share information with other state agencies. Benefits include cutting costs, simplifying management of the system; more agility in responding to legislative demands, and improved service to clients by providing a more unified view of services for which they might be eligible. (IT Business Edge)


  • Pfizer used SOA to bring together data assets from across its global enterprise into a single, centralised data definition. For example, the company had four to five definitions of what ‘customer’ meant. Pfizer turned to SOA to decouple its data from its applications, such as SAP, Oracle, and WebLogic. SOA was employed as the mechanism through which data is distributed. The team generated a standard set of interfaces for accessing its MDM tool and deployed it into its SOA architecture. (ZDNET)


  • Intel turned to SOA to reduce the amount of resources being put into point-to-point integration between various enterprise packages. The company was spending an inordinate amount of development capacity both developing and sustaining those integrations as vendors would change their products. Intel reports that it has seen a return on investment “in excess of tens of millions of dollars” as a result of its three year- old SOA effort. (ZDNET)

The Future EMERGENCE OF STANDARDS The future of systems integration is continually evolving. As more organisations utilise the ESB approach, it’s important for standards and industry best practices to be established to help make integration easier, and to promote consistency and cohesion across the industry.

Traditionally, each developer writes code to integrate their systems within the ESB. The main issue with this approach is the discrepancies that arise in the way that messages are defined to communicate between the systems and what mechanisms are used. As such, protocol and messaging format standards are now advancing and these promote best practices within the industry. This is creating rules and regulations developers can follow to ensure accuracy in the high-quality integration techniques used.

Conclusion The increasing adoption of SOA and the ESB approach suggests the growing need to provide a managed layer between services and their consumers. With the emergence of standards and industry best practices, developers can effectively and efficiently provide their organisation with this layer in a standardised and consistent manner. As a result, organisations can operate as truly unified entities. This enables a 360 degree view of operations in minutes rather than weeks, and drives better business performance. Moreover, incorporating the highest standard of systems integration enables IT departments to support business flexibility, agility, and ultimately, business success.


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