Enterprise Application Integration

Supply chain management applications (for managing inventory and shipping), customer relationship management applications (for managing current and potential customers), business intelligence applications (for finding patterns from existing data from operations), and other types of applications (for managing data such as human resources data, health care, internal communications, etc) typically cannot communicate with one another in order to share data or business rules. For this reason, such applications are sometimes referred to as islands of automation or information silos. This lack of communication leads to inefficiencies, wherein identical data are stored in multiple locations, or straightforward processes are unable to be automated.

Enterprise application integration (EAI) is the process of linking such applications within a single organization together in order to simplify and automate business processes to the greatest extent possible, while at the same time avoiding having to make sweeping changes to the existing applications or data structures. In the words of the Gartner Group, EAI is the “unrestricted sharing of data and business processes among any connected application or data sources in the enterprise.

One large challenge of EAI is that the various systems that need to be linked together often reside on different operating systems, use different database solutions and different computer languages, and in some cases are legacy systems that are no longer supported by the vendor who originally created them. In some cases, such systems are dubbed "stovepipe systems" because they consist of components that have been jammed together in a way that makes it very hard to modify them in any way.

Purposes of EAI

EAI can be used for different purposes:

a. Data (information) Integration: Ensuring that information in multiple systems is kept consistent. This is also known as EII (Enterprise Information Integration).
b. Process Integration: Linking business processes across applications.
c. Vendor independence: Extracting business policies or rules from applications and implementing them in the EAI system, so that even if one of the business applications is replaced with a different vendor's application, the business rules do not have to be re-implemented.
d. Common Facade: An EAI system could front-end a cluster of applications, providing a single consistent access interface to these applications and shielding users from having to learn to interact with different applications.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages
o Real time information access among systems
o Streamlines business processes and helps raise organizational efficiency.
o Maintains information integrity across multiple systems
o Ease of development and maintenance

Disadvantages
o Prohibitively high development costs, especially for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs).
o EAI implementations are very time consuming, and need a lot of resources.
o Require a fair amount of up front design, which many managers are not able to envision or not willing to invest in. Most EAI projects usually start off as point-to-point efforts, very soon becoming unmanageable as the number of applications increase.

The Future of EAI

EAI technologies are still being developed and there still is no consensus on the ideal approach or the correct group of technologies a company should use. A common pitfall is to use other proprietary technologies that claim to be open and extensible but create vendor lock-in.

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