As companies merge and grow, different systems from different vendors are implemented in different programming languages running in different environments. This is further complicated by the addition of bespoke applications, furthermore, companies are shifting towards utilising cloud-based applications that run as a SaaS model (FinancesOnline, 2015). This heterogeneity introduces complex integration challenges.
‘Enterprise System Integration’, also known as ‘Enterprise Application Integration (EAI)’ provides intra- and inter-business connectivity aiming to lower costs while providing the same, or better, business value to clients (He et al. 2009 and Sharif et al. 2005). EAI thus facilitates the sharing of information and business processes of interrelated systems in order to achieve integration between disparate systems.
Different ways in which integration can be achieved
Typically, integration is usually accomplished via application connectivity and data transformation (Wang et al. 2011, Andersson and Johnson 2001, Martin and Scheibler 2007 and Hophe and Woolf 2015).
Application connectivity is implemented by using standard middleware products by means of connectors which allows applications to interact. These connectors typically perform two-way communication via two main messaging patterns; bus or hub and spoke (Hophe and Woolf 2015.
In order to avoid each connector having to convert data to and from every other applications’ formats, EAI systems usually stipulate an application-independent (common) data format. The EAI system usually provides a data transformation service to help convert between application-specific and common formats.
Key technologies for integration
Key technologies used in integration (Andersson and Johnson 2001, Martin and Scheibler 2007 and Hophe and Woolf 2015) are generally standards-based, and not tied to a specific implementation, for example:
- Open Source ESBs
- Message Brokers
- Web service or REST-based integration
- JMS-based messaging systems
Acknowledgement benefits and difficulties
The benefits of EAI include (Ruh et al. 2002 and Irani et al. 2003):
- Data integration: Information in multiple systems are kept consistent.
- Vendor independence: Extracting business rules from applications allows the underlying application to be replaced by a different vendor, and the business rules do not have to be re-implemented.
- Common facade: An EAI system can provide a single consistent access interface to the integrated applications, and shields users from having to learn to use different software packages. This can also assist in exposing functionality from one application to another lowering development time. This also assists with legacy applications to be exposed to a new channel that was not previously available.
It was reported that 70% of all EAI projects fail (ebizq 2003). Most of these failures are not due to the software itself or technical difficulties, but rather due to management issues. The Integration Consortium European Chairman, Steve Craggs, has outlined the seven main pitfalls undertaken by companies using EAI systems (Veitch 2005):
- Constant change: EAI projects requires dynamic project managers to manage their implementation.
- Shortage of EAI experts.
- Competing standards: EAI standards are not universal.
- EAI is a system: EAI is not a tool, but rather a system and should be implemented as such.
- Interface development: A lack of consensus leads to excessive effort to map between various requirements.
- Loss of detail: Information that seemed unimportant at an earlier stage may become crucial later.
- Accountability: due to conflicting requirements, there should be clear accountability.
Reflection and Conclusion
Whilst EAI can be of tremendous benefit, it can also increase coupling between systems, and therefore increase management overhead and costs.
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 Software as a Service
 Service Orientated Architecture
 Enterprise Service Bus