The need for EAI tools has grown incrementally as organizations implement e-business integration and e-services, both of which depend on a strong integration infrastructure.

The current economic situation is causing most companies to rethink their IT spending plans. Where once large amounts of money flowed freely toward untested technologies, now tighter budgets dictate spending habits, and the focus is on getting the broadest possible return on technology investment.

Organizations are turning their analytic gaze inward. Not only are they examining their internal business processes, but they are also taking a hard look at how their technology investments can support future business growth. The common question is: How do we make the most of our existing systems while incorporating new applications and data in order to stay competitive?

EAI Arrives
EAI tools have evolved significantly since they first appeared on the market in 1998. Where once the functionality was limited to integrating multiple applications within one machine, today's tools are able to integrate complex, disparate and diverse systems so that they behave—or at least appear to behave—as a single application.

The need for EAI tools has grown incrementally as organizations implement e-business integration and e-services, both of which depend on a strong integration infrastructure. EAI also benefits from increased implementations of packaged solutions such as ERP, CRM or data warehousing.

Having made significant investments in these technologies, companies are now discovering that the systems can't always communicate with one another. And in those cases where they do communicate with one another, it isn't always in the most efficient or effective manner.

Because EAI technology has the power to impact nearly every aspect of business—from e-commerce to back-office—companies get a bigger bang for their budgetary buck while maximizing existing investments. Application integration also paves the way for broader, deeper integration among business partners, supply chains and customers.

The Two Faces of Integration

Internal: Integrating internal applications, such as ERP systems, with legacy systems, CRM or SCM applications.
External: Integrating internal applications with external systems, such as those of business partners, supply chain providers or members of a b-to-b exchange.

Integration Lexicon

EAI: Enterprise application integration. The oldest of these terms, EAI encompasses the plans, methodologies and tools involved in coordinating and consolidating corporate systems.

DAI: Distributed application integration. This term is intended to highlight the new focus on integrating systems across organizations and partnerships, not just within single companies. Proposed by eAI magazine.

e3AI: Extended electronic enterprise application integration. This term represents an extension of traditional EAI that attempts to achieve zero latency in the supply chain. Also proposed by eAI magazine.

Enterprise integration server: This is middleware software that models business processes and automates them by orchestrating applications. Considered middleware. Forrester Research calls enterprise integration servers "a key weapon in companies' infrastructure arsenal," helping prepare the landscape for deeper trading partner integration.

TBI: Total business integration. Proposed by Aberdeen Group. TBI is intended to go beyond merely extending applications and focus on the issue of flexibility in access and services.

EAI Evaluation Criteria
Investigating EAI solutions? According to Forrester Research, these are the questions to consider:

  • Does the product focus on business process?
  • Can the product scale to support massive transaction volumes?
  • Can the system connect applications without requiring lots of custom coding or tampering with the applications themselves?
  • Does the vendor have staying power and tight partnerships?

Interlopers Beware
Although the EAI market is relatively mature, it still must withstand the potential impact of newer technologies. Portal technologies, for example, are beginning to show signs of overlapping with the EAI market.

META Group's Craig Roth advises organizations evaluating portal frameworks and requiring complex application integration to "limit their scope to vendors partnering with EAI vendors or utilizing the EAI functionality of an application server."

Future Directions
According to IDC's Daniel Sholler, event-driven, message-based EAI solutions and emerging XML standards will form the nucleus of the majority of e-business applications and integration practices. By 2002, these standards will evolve to where they dominate dynamic service-based architectures for e-commerce.

The breadth of service requirements, however, dictates that application servers and integration servers will merge. Sholler predicts that as enterprises reconcile multiple heterogeneous application platforms, merged platform solutions will become mainstream by 2004.

EAI Movers and Shakers

May 2000: webMethods announces plans to acquire Active Software.

March 2001: Sybase Inc. announces plans to acquire enterprise application integration vendor New Era of Networks Inc.

March 2001: Peregrine Systems Inc. announces plans to acquire b-to-b integration software vendor Extricity Inc.

April 2001: Vitria Technology Inc. named fastest-growing application integration vendor in 2000 market share study by WinterGreen Research Inc.

April 2001: Mercator Software Inc. completes a strategic restructuring and reorganization that includes a 21 percent reduction in workforce. The company eliminates 170 full-time positions across all functions, worldwide.

September 2001: webMethods Inc. announces that it will become a global system integrator with Hewlett-Packard Co., making the webMethods integration platform a premier software solution within HP Consulting.

September 2001: Actional Corp. and BEA Systems Inc. announce a strategic partnership whereby Actional's Control Broker adapter technology will be integrated into BEA WebLogic Integration 2.0. Actional's adapters are also being used to extend the integration capabilities of Oracle9i Application Server and IBM MQSeries and WebSphere.