Putting data and business process integration in context: requirements that can go from user interface to database

Putting data and business process integration in context: requirements that can go from user interface to database – Focus: EAI

Paola Lubet

Concerns about economic efficiency and risk reduction always weigh heavily on IT organizations as they embark on the implementation of any new technology. This is especially true when integrating enterprise applications that must operate over intranets and the Internet. While seamless integration and across-the-board automation may be highly visible IT goals, the business process needs of employees, customers, business partners, and suppliers are equally important. All enterprise constituents must be able to rapidly access knowledge and resources based on their role, function and need–and they must be able to get this information in an intuitive and contextual manner. This rigorous set of demands dictates that a new breed of technology solutions be used to simplify the integration of multivendor business applications and vast amounts of decentralized data.

Historically, CIOs wanting to integrate their data and business processes have had to select individual user portal, enterprise application integration (EAI), and data warehousing technologies. Once all the products were purchased, substantial amounts of custom programming had to be performed to fit the technologies together, let alone scale them and enable operation in real time. This explains why more than one third of the total IT budget can be exhausted on application integration and customization. A new generation of pre-integrated platform has emerged to address this portal, data, and business process dilemma.

Achieving equilibrium between technologies and business processes–while realizing greater economic efficiency at reduced risk–has prompted IT organizations to seek out new and better solutions that provide application integration, data warehousing, and user portal frameworks. The latest generation of standards-based suites pre-integrate these functions through Web services, and support the applications and middleware of third-party vendors, thereby offering the mechanisms needed to balance the enterprise’s business process and technology requirements.

Bringing Together People, Processes, and Data

Pre-integrated suites built on open standards frameworks are designed to bring together a multitude of applications, databases, and information types. These offerings, able to run over the Internet with no specific client requirements, employ a consistent data model and user interface that allow business analysts to enhance applications that support the enterprise’s business processes without performing detailed coding. Key areas where this is especially beneficial include security, roles, look-and-feel, languages, documentation, maintenance, and installation.

By using off-the-shelf and pre-integrated suites, enterprise data and business processes can be brought into equilibrium quickly. Highly customizable user portals can be created that allow customers, suppliers, partners, and employees to intuitively access and use information in the context of their roles and responsibilities. Enterprise applications, legacy systems, and business processes become functional in ways that help people analyze business scenarios using consistently warehoused data, thereby allowing them to make better-informed decisions faster.

Because enterprise knowledge and information is digitized and readily accessible, reliance on traditional information transfer approaches such as writing notes, making multiple data entries, or working through intermediaries can be nearly eliminated. Information can flow seamlessly across business applications, delivering speed and improved accuracy. This provides economic efficiency and gives users greater confidence in the integrity of their information (see Figure 1).


Open Infrastructure Frameworks

An open framework approach to application integration is essential if the enterprise is to future-proof itself. The demands of business–some of which must occur in real time–require connecting people, enabling business processes, and unifying data at a global level. Adopting an information technology strategy based on an Internet framework with pre-configured portal, integration, and warehouse solutions can help create these stable environments. This allows IT organizations to sidestep potential technology traps while saving time and money. It also allows business processes to be extended directly to customers, partners, suppliers, and employees. The enterprise’s applications can be run, data can be aggregated and consistently warehoused, and analytic processing can be performed and delivered so people can interpret results dynamically. Best of all, each user can access knowledge using an array of integrated tools that are made available through their individual portal and a standard Web browser.

Portals and Processes

Portals, as the name implies, are the means by which timely and relevant information is conveyed to the user, who may be internal or external to the enterprise. They serve as a personalized, role-based hub to access business information and applications, and to support transactions and services from internal and external sources. When portals and the applications accessed through them are intuitive and easy to navigate, users embrace them. When the opposite occurs, users will continue working but tend to retain data in side files and revert to traditional work habits. This causes the application’s status as the system of record to be diminished. Conversely, by employing a Web browser as the single point of entry, the applications accessed through each user portal become the system of record by default.

Implementing advanced portal features can further simplify and streamline the interaction between users and processes. Using intelligent context management, additional valuable information can be identified and presented to a user performing a specific task. For example, if an accounts receivable employee were to query and pull up customer accounts containing outstanding and overdue bills, they could view key performance indicators (KPIs) about those customers to determine if sending a collections notice would impact pending sales opportunities. All pertinent and consolidated intelligence would be presented via the portal and a better-informed credit decision could be made.

Integration Engines Power Data and Business Processes

Business processes have always spanned individual organizations to varying degrees. Yet the internal enterprise systems that support them have barely communicated and shared data in a consistent format. Achieving optimal enterprise efficiency requires the breaking down of these communications and interpretational barriers. It requires an understanding that real informational value comes from seamlessly connecting business processes in ways that are transparent to users. Integration engines that employ Web services-based technologies play an important role in satisfying this requirement. These engines are designed to manage interoperability between core, third-party, and legacy systems; and provide the automated brokering needed to handle, route, and transform data between applications. Operating in a hub-and-spoke manner, integration engines eliminate the programming and time required to create point-to-point integrations between individual applications, resulting in reduced ongoing maintenance costs. Enterprise integration points and process packs define and structure the application integration paths based on knowledge of the underlying application. By taking advantage of these technologies, the time and cost associated with manual programming can be overcome.

Integration engines are designed to understand the semantics and manage the use of business objects in order to interpret and process essential information. Categories include, but are not limited to, roles, security, and languages that drive how the enterprise’s systems infrastructure works with portals, applications, processes, and data. From employee hiring to manufacturing, shipping, billing, and servicing customers, integration at the business process level is essential and it must be cohesive. For example, integrated business processes with embedded business objects would know how to interpret and handle multiple currency fields and language-sensitive content. This process-with-objects approach obviates the need for expensive low-level programming while providing faster system response and greater informational continuity.

Coupling Data Warehousing with Analytics

Individual silos of information have historically shown a propensity for growth in environments where applications are not integrated. Extracting this data for use across the enterprise requires the use of business analytics. Powered by the integration engine, information from all types of systems, applications, and data repositories can be acquired and assimilated even across the Internet. By embedding analytics directly into business processes, information can be aggregated, analyzed, and reported using Web services. This approach allows users to connect with any data warehouse, application, or portal that employs this technology.

This enterprise-level warehousing approach consolidates global data to create a single information source that feeds current performance information to the users’ desktop dashboards. This way, the central data warehouse can become the enterprise’s core business intelligence platform. From it, multidimensional analyses can be performed on data regardless of its point of origin. Applying business analytics, dynamic and forward-looking business processes can be adopted, allowing the enterprise to overcome its traditional reliance on historical data as the primary decision support mechanism.

By coupling the data warehouse with business analytics, enterprise constituents can be given a global view of quantitative data based on their job function and be provided with the qualitative means to efficiently interpret it, analyze it, and put it to work. As a result, business functions can be brought into better alignment through improved visibility, future events can be better anticipated, and courses of action can be altered quickly to meet opportunities as they arise. This rapid access to reliable information allows employees, customers, partners, and suppliers to make confident business decisions in ways that cross software, systems, and enterprise boundaries. Further, from a financial perspective the management and maintenance of multiple information repositories can be reduced through consolidation of the infrastructure investment.


The business process requirements of the global enterprise span the user interface to the database. By leveraging open frameworks that support advanced, pre-integrated solutions, software applications–regardless of vendor or lineage–and data can be brought together into a cohesive, scalable, and dynamic environment. This strategic model accommodates business needs today and adapts to technology changes tomorrow, which future-proofs the investment in business processes. By adopting an open framework approach to enterprise application integration, new functionality can be rolled out incrementally and transparently using Web services. It can be done according to schedule and budget, and at much lower risk. Internet technologies created a worldwide environment that supports an open flow of information between systems. Now it comes to the enterprise.


Paola Lubet is the vice president of Marketing for PeopleSoft AppConnect and oversees its global marketing strategy, including the Enterprise Portal, Enterprise Warehouse, and Integration Broker. She has more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech industry. Before joining PeopleSoft, Paola served as senior vice president of Marketing and Products at SoftwareMarkets, where she was responsible for marketing, business development and product strategy.

She holds a master’s in computer science from Italy’s Universita’ degli Studi di Torino.


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