Enterprise integration tools come of age

Like most gawky adolescents, enterprise applications integration tools lack age and experience. They're not perfect, but they can still save you time and money.
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The tide has turned. After several years of excessive attention due to unfulfilled promises and the subsequent backlash, enterprise applications integration (EAI) tools are entering a new phase. Even the skeptics are starting to say these tools provide significant benefit. Are they as good as their vendors claim? Of course not. Are they as bad as your worst nightmare? Not anymore.

Some of the EAI companies have staff who have successfully built tools to move data from one platform to another, but their expertise may or may not be useful for your problem.
Ron Davis, vice president of information services at Fujitsu Computer Products of America in San Jose, Calif., remains a doubter. In the early 1990s his unit of Fujitsu dumped a score of legacy applications in favor of the Oracle Corp. suite for financials and manufacturing and, more recently, began using the PeopleSoft Inc. human resources modules (version 7.5). Because the company is an ERP pioneer--it has been in production with Oracle Applications version 9.0 since 1994 (and has since upgraded to version 10)--Davis' division didn't have the option to use any of the EAI products. Fujitsu built a series of application programming interfaces using Oracle tools. That experience leads Davis to think the EAI players are a bit too green.

"They need a great deal of knowledge to make this work," Davis recently told me. "Some of the companies make all these claims of deep knowledge, yet they are only three years old. How did they develop all of this expertise in such a short time? Just to develop the data models is a tremendous effort in itself."

Officials at Active Software Inc., Constellar Corp., Convoy Corp., CrossWorlds Software Inc., the Frontec AMT unit of Frontec Group, New Era of Networks Inc. (NEON), TIBCO Software Inc., Vitria Technology Inc., and the other dozen EAI players defend their claims. They cite their experience at other firms doing related interface and integration tasks. CrossWorlds brags about its executive team's experience at Sybase Inc. NEON's executive team used to work at the Goldman, Sachs & Co. investment bank in New York City. That was ground zero for EAI development--Goldman Sachs funded and then pioneered the use of the Teknekron Information Bus (TIB) more than a decade ago as the conduit to pump stock market quotes into a variety of proprietary hardware and software platforms. The builders of the TIB then left Teknekron to start TIBCO. A number of those pioneers then left TIBCO several years ago to start Vitria.

Bottom line: Some of these companies have staff that have actually successfully built tools to move data from one platform to another, but their expertise may or may not be useful for your problem.

They were able to help Jack Kniess, manager of enterprise data at the Eaton Corp., of Cleveland, Ohio. He says NEON, and the MQSeries family of products from IBM Corp., provided enough functionality during Eaton's conversion to Oracle Applications version 10.7 that it made sense to move ahead after trials last year. While the tool set was far from polished--Kniess characterizes it as "rudimentary right now"--the NEON/MQ combination was able to save the company a significant amount of time. "We were committed to getting the applications up and running in six-month increments," he says, and the combo delivered.

Kniess has a particularly complex problem: Eaton is a wildly diversified manufacturer of industrial parts and equipment for automobile makers and other manufacturers. The company's IT infrastructure is decentralized to a level that would make most IT managers cringe--imagine 80 development and production instances of an ERP suite running in your company.

 

 


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