Low-cost options for integrating.

Author:Bertheaud, Rick
Position:Enterprise Integration - Column

A consultant examines two alternatives to major enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, both of which can be implemented at far less cost and offer significant enhancements over multiple systems, he says.

As a result of mergers, acquisitions or a lack of IT standards, many large firms have grown into a hodgepodge of business units operating on different technology platforms. Faced with a variety of older legacy systems, different ERP vendors, different versions, numerous configurations -- or all of the above -- some companies simply opt to forgo the benefits of consolidating their financial functions and stay separated.

Others invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a common ERP platform prior to consolidating. Still others consolidate organizationally but continue to operate and maintain separate platforms. Clearly, these solutions have major drawbacks. Are there other options?

Rather than choose between the high costs of a single ERP and the constraints on productivity and customer service of multiple systems, some companies have found another way: connecting the multitude of different customer applications to a common front end.

It takes work, but the risks are containable and the benefits can be enormous. Imagine yourself in a world where your associates sign on to one system in the morning, enter transactions that post through to multiple systems, electronically route transactions to many different approvers or downstream processors, access data from these same multiple systems to respond to inquiries and generate reports that consolidate or compare data from those systems.

Imagine also that your associates are experts in the system and their jobs since they have only one seamless process to learn. Now imagine that other users such as customers, vendors and employees can access this world through a role-based portal, enter their own transactions and data and query their own information. And, hang on to that vision -- because it's what will sustain you through the effort of tackling integration.

Embarking on a technology integration strategy presents a spectrum of options, bounded by two dramatically different approaches. We'll call the first "gatekeeper" (because "asynchronous batch interface" is a mouthful) and the second "enterprise application integration," or EAI.

Both of these approaches have a multitude of variations, but we can simplify by describing them in terms of two recent "real world" examples, each involving a multinational, Fortune 100 company with multiple business units operating on 40-plus systems, looking for ways to expand and improve...

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