Integration Competency: Agility Despite Complexity

Integration Competency: Agility Despite Complexity

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting thoughts, collaboratively written with my colleagues, Rob Karel and David Lyle, on the concept of a comprehensive next-generation Integration Competency Center that we’re calling Enterprise Data Competency (EDC). As we discussed in a post a few months ago, the three of us are working on a book that will update the work David and I did in 2005 (“Integration Competency Center: An Implementation Methodology”) and 2010 (“Lean Integration”). One core generational “upgrade” is the concept of connecting technical data competency to business value.  Another is that there’s not one solution—we live in a “hybrid,” “multimodal,” complicated world, and the challenge of an EDC is not to apply one method to all situations, but to adapt principles of excellence to the realities of your enterprise.

The simplest way to illustrate the evolution of the ICC to EDC is that the “I” in ICC can no longer stand merely for integration, but must now also encompass information. In fact, there are three broad competencies that an EDC must embrace to bring business value to a complex environment, and we’ll address all three in coming posts. The first continues to mature your integration competency; the second looks to address broader information competency; and the third embraces the need to focus on true business transformation competency, the broader approaches and skill sets for turning data into powerful business results.

Integration competency: Agility despite complexity

Let’s kick off this blog series with a renewed focus on integration competency. The primary value proposition of data integration is agility. You’ve got to be able to move fast, but with a flexible environment that allows systems and data to plug-and-play. This flexibility is vital because we no longer live in a world where centralized and decentralized IT are separate choices. In today’s world, hybrid is the new normal, and IT initiatives fall on various points along the spectrum between any pure extremes.

The integration competency center is the best way to address the challenges of supporting cloud and on-premise infrastructures, IT-driven and business-driven initiatives, and the ever-increasing variety of data types your organization depends upon. By treating integration elements as first-class business systems rather than independent components, the next-gen ICC leverages data governance and business alignment to maximize the business value of data assets.

An example: We helped UPMC integrate—for the first time—its clinical and genomic information on 140 patients previously treated for breast cancer, letting medical researchers quickly draw new correlations from the data, in pursuit of life-enhancing treatments.

Serving your most neglected system

Here’s a secret: The single largest system in your business is the enterprise integration system (EIS). We tell that to the organizations we visit, and are often told, “We don’t have one of those.” But you do, even if by default. Whether you’ve crafted your information integration effort like a core piece of architecture or failed to notice it withering in the corner like a neglected houseplant, you’re still trying to connect data.

Once you shine a light on what’s often an accidental construct, you can begin to simplify it and make it really work. A key way to reduce development and operating costs is to solve for integration patterns, not individual point-to-point needs. We achieve that by leveraging standards, metadata, and automation.

Think of the individual need as one of those complicated Lego sets, the ones where you’re supposed to build the Death Star or the Taj Mahal. You can solve the challenge of building the space station, but then you have to start from scratch to build the palace. Solve instead for the commonality between them—the patterns at the block level—and you come away with learnings that can apply across projects, which will help when someone asks you to figure out how to build a little plastic Versailles.

Explaining IT to MBAs

The fastest way to lose a COO or CFO’s attention is to talk about petaflops or semantics. The fastest way to hook them is to talk about money: The money saved by reducing waste, the money earned by getting a transformative new business idea to market weeks or months faster, thanks to a quicker time to analytics insight.

It’s vital that tech leaders learn how to express IT possibilities, goals and needs in a way that will engage business leaders. But the challenge is not just to “talk economics” instead of “talking tech.” You’ve also got to literally change the perspective. It’s easy to champion the value of a certain individual initiative, easier to identify the “owner” of the initiative and the benefit of success. But with the enterprise-wide concept of data management, there’s no single owner, no single line-of-business metric. That’s why the very idea of an enterprise integration system is largely ignored: No one owns it.

That’s not to say that the solution is an “EIS czar.” But IT has to learn to champion the multiple values, the greater overall win, of a systematic approach to enterprise-level data integration. Otherwise, it’s a massive struggle just to communicate what IT wants to do, and why it’s good for the business.

The takeaway and the teaser

In our next post, we’ll go up a level in the concept of the EDC—from integration competency to broader information competency. Until then, if you’re not busy building a Lego Star Destroyer, we recommend taking a look at the recently published 2016 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Data Integration and the 2016 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Metadata Management.  It’s Gartner’s first-ever Metadata MQ, and it gives a good lay of the land for this important topic.