More than ever this is a question business executives and their IT counterparts are pondering.
By Alan Gold @alanegold
More than ever this is a question business executives and their IT counterparts are pondering. Why? Because making good business decisions, running an efficient operation, and being responsive to market changes requires good information and an software applications that work well together to help you run the business. Frankly, staying competitive in any market demands unprecedented agility and to achieve competitiveness you need solid operational and supporting software; products that give you efficient workflows, accurate views into your financial health, your customers’ activities and satisfaction as well as strong operational performance. Everyone can agree to that. The problem is, the actions most companies take to achieve “organizational goodness” tend to have the opposite effect on business systems and their ability to supply—or more properly, the ability of users to access and use—meaningful data. That is, they buy more and more software to do more and more things around the business. Yes, the cure makes the illness worse! Let’s see why that is.
The (sort of) dirty little secret of software, at least that which is most likely to be deployed in an mid-size enterprise, is that very few applications play nicely with other applications. Software engineers either design their version of elegance from the ground up, creating lovely code and great functionality, or, they build out larger and larger data and functional structures to keep up with competitive pressures, but never go back to rationalize and “clean up” the inefficiencies that have crept in. In the overwhelming number of cases though, no thought is given to what the higher level needs of their customer might be, or how the information contained or generated by their software might be used elsewhere. The unfortunate business results are difficulty in making use of the information contained across multiple systems, struggling with multiple versions of the truth, “swivel chair” data entry, loss of data fidelity… I could go on and on but you get the idea. At bottom, many businesses wind up with too many disparate systems, too many complex databases, and no good way to sort it all out.
That said, the way to sort all this out is to find a way to tie all these applications together in an organized way, get all the data sources playing nicely with each other—in short, integrate the heck out of your applications and work toward the important concept of Data Unification, i.e., the concept of having all business data unified into a single model that is easily accessible by any business application.
Historically, however, that’s been hard to do without the use of gobs of money and lots and lots of time to execute and maintain. Either you wind up with dozens, or hundreds, of point-to-point integrations, or a great big data warehouse, all of which need constant care and feeding. Revision management, keeping up with the results of schema changes in one application and catching it before it breaks a critical data feed is a daunting exercise at best. At worst, it’s impossible to maintain. For large corporations, brute force can prevail, but for a mid-size enterprise, or a company that’s grown via mergers and acquisitions? Good luck unifying anything.
Fortunately, there are technologies which have been emerging of late that offer a manageable solution to the data integration challenge and can get mid-sized businesses to Data Unification. Data Virtualization, in particular, is proving itself a worthy tool for easily implemented and maintained data integration. A number of companies offer this technology set [including Accur8 Software] with varying breadths of capability and functionality, and widely ranging costs. It’s definitely worth investigating what Data Virtualization could do for your business, but be sure to focus on speed of implementation, ease of use, and simplicity of support. You won’t want to get caught in paying for lots of data feeds and expensive ongoing integration work, so be sure to shop around for the best mix of capability and value. Once you’ve got that in place you won’t care how many apps you have because you’ll have all the integration your company needs!