Enterprise Information Integration Tools Worth Deploying Despite Immaturity

Business benefit of EII increases exponentially with successive integration of each related application and database, analyst says

When IBM Corp. announced its DB2 Information Integrator products several months ago, analysts speculated that Big Blue’s move could provide a much-needed shot in the arm to the still emerging market for enterprise information integration (EII) software.

A new report from research firm Aberdeen Group suggests that that’s exactly what has happened.

Thanks to IBM’s foray into the burgeoning EII space, Aberdeen finds, more IT shops are aware of EII and its potential implications. The upshot, writes Aberdeen managing vice president of platform infrastructure Wayne Kernochan, is that the technology has turned a corner: “Buyers are beginning to see EII as a strategic infrastructure decision that can improve the agility of IT and enhance IT’s ability to quickly adapt technology to the rapidly changing needs of the business—especially the needs of e-business.”

Although EII is a still maturing field—the market for EII solutions amounts to less than $200 million today—and even though most EII players are small start-ups, Kernochan says that enterprises can nevertheless benefit from the technology, largely because so much enterprise information remains unconnected and segmented in stand-alone data sources.

As a result, argues Kernochan, “The business benefit of EII increases exponentially with successive integration of each related application and database. The connections between each additional information source and all the others have typically not been examined in most enterprises, and these connections—especially when combined with business process software—allow employee empowerment, greater insights into competitive advantage, more rapid response to customer inquiries and orders, and more effective integration with the databases of supply chain partners.”

Kernochan finds that enterprises are typically deploying EII solutions to support customer relationship management (CRM) and Web-based employee productivity applications. Companies can also tap EII to enable scenarios such as e-business integration across a supply chain, he says. For organizations that are undertaking business process integration projects, there’s another upside: EII can accelerate these efforts by facilitating simultaneous access to multiple databases attached to multiple applications.

A number of small players are currently vying for a share of an EII market (Aberdeen says it could amount to more than $250 million over the next two years), including Enosys, MetaMatrix, XAware, and Nimble Technology (acquired by Actuate last week—see separate story).

In addition, the presence of established vendors, such as IBM, BEA Systems Inc., and Business Objects SA, could attract fence-sitting customers with concerns about the long-term viability of the EII startups.

Not surprisingly, Kernochan believes that other vendors will take note: “The potential of the EII market will mean that major hardware and database suppliers will continue to enter the market within the next two years, either by acquisition or by partnerships with existing EII suppliers,” he writes. “The entry of these suppliers will continue to increase EII’s visibility, allowing them to parlay advanced technology-based solutions and industry relationships into large-scale enterprise opportunities.”

One competitive differentiator customers can use to assess EII vendors today is whether or not they use XML technologies to support inter-database integration, Kernochan says. “The XML approach makes it easier to deliver the resulting aggregated data to a wide variety of inter- and extra-enterprise audiences. Another is support for SOAP and Web services.”

Kernochan counsels that potential EII adopters seek out products that allow them to do things such as define which databases are to be integrated (and which provide developer-friendly user interfaces for doing so), support a wide variety of databases, and provide customized support for standard interfaces (such as enterprise portals) and delivery mechanisms (such as XML).

Ironically, he notes, “At present, no EII solution offers administration across data sources. However, this capability is a key value-add to many users. EII’s ability to drive down database administration costs will reduce per-application TCO significantly.”

Tools are but one piece of the EII puzzle; expertise is still another. Because of the complexity associated with doing EII, Kernochan foresees a thriving market for EII professionals: “Finding the appropriate skills to execute an EII project is not always easy, as EII implementation requires in-depth knowledge of the structure of existing enterprise databases. This will provide a business opportunity for professional service suppliers and for application service providers (ASPs) that offer EII integration services.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.