Enterprise integration tools come of age: Page 2

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Match the tool to the problem

NEON, and many of the other EAI products, has a ways to go before it's the ideal solution to the integration and interface problems faced by ERP implementers. But I'm convinced these tools can save more time and money than they absorb because of their immaturity. You just have to be careful to match the tool to the problem, because the vendors' marketing messages aren't as crisp and clear as they should be. During the past year, I've attended more than a dozen presentations by EAI vendors, and their positioning statements leave many market watchers befuddled. I agree with the recent comment from PC Week columnist John Taschek: "What could be a $15 billion industry consists of companies that cannot for the life of them, tell anyone how they differ."

Essentially, there are four categories of EAI tools: middleware, connectors, process automation, and message brokering.

Middleware is a traditional data transport technology. These products usually use encapsulation to move data.

Vendors selling connectors have actually developed specific interfaces for specific data structures.

Message brokers use a hub approach that take messages such as events and forward them to the appropriate target database.

Process automation Process automation takes the highest level approach--the tool actually converts data from one format to another by using the source code from both applications

The differences are not as clear-cut in real life. Most of the vendors incorporate more than one approach in their products. That mix and match of technologies--reflecting a decidedly techie bent of many of the vendors--precludes clear differentiation. It takes a lot of analysis to understand which tool is most appropriate for which problem. There are differences. Some tools are best for batch problems, others for real-time challenges. Other tools are best for moving and converting raw data once, while still others are focused on real-time transfers of massive database tables from one application to another.

For more specific information about what the myriad of EAI tools do and don't do, check a massive Feb. 1999 report by Tim Klasell, vice president and research analyst-technical software, of the Minneapolis-based equity research firm Dain Rauscher Wessels, a unit of the Dain Rauscher Inc. investment bank. He recently provided Datamation and an affiliated Web site, ERPhub.com, a landmark report on enterprise applications integration technology and vendors. Klasell says the vendors do not provide a complete solution to an organization's ERP interface and integration problem, but they do point to solutions.

"No one EAI vendor provides the entire solution for all integration problems," Klasell notes, "Getting two applications from the same vendor to integrate may only require a middleware vendor, while weaving together hundreds of applications for a major financial institution would require all of the technologies."

Klasell and I developed a grid that provides some guidance about which vendors' solve what type of problem (see below). To read his entire 65-page report, please go to the new ERPhub.com Web site and look for the integration workbench. //

Integration challenge Technological approach Vendors
Workflow applications/ Content processing Process automationCrossWorlds Software Inc.
Extricity Software Inc.
New Era of Networks Inc. (NEON)
Software Technologies Corp. (STC)
VIE Systems Inc.
Vitria Technology Inc.
Near real-time message routing through multiple connections Message brokering Active Software Inc.
CrossWorlds Software
Frontec AMT
TIBCO Software Inc.
TSI International Software Ltd.
Interfacing resources and transforming data structures Connectors Active Software
BEA Systems Inc.
Convoy Corp.
Constellar Corp.
CrossWorlds Software
Evolutionary Technologies International Inc. (ETI)
Microsoft Corp.
Oberon Software Inc.
Vitria Technology Inc.
Data transportation and encapsulation Middleware Active Software
BEA Systems Inc.
Microsoft Corp.
Source: Dain Rauscher Wessels and Datamation

Larry Marion is an editor and consultant with more than 20 years of experience in the use of computer technology in manufacturing and finance. He is the former editor of Datamation, Electronic Business, and LOTUS magazines. He can be reached at lmarion@mediaone.net.

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