Enterprise Application Integration in ECM
Enterprise Content Management seeks to provide a common source for all content, whether generated by applications or by other entities. Integrating operational applications is one attempt to achieve this objective.
Multiple, compartmentalized applications tend to create a need for duplicate data entry. The same data are entered twice or more so that each application can have all the data it needs.
With separate applications for each department and function, business intelligence also tends to be narrowly focused. Each department or function generates the BI it needs, and this might not be available to, or adequate for, other departments. This can lead to losses. For example, in the absence of information about payment practices of customers, the sales department might continue granting credit to a customer who might be nearing bankruptcy.
Even if the segmented intelligence is made available to other entities, it might not reveal the whole, enterprise-wide, picture.
All of these problems lead to the solution of Enterprise Application Integration—EAI.
Problems with Enterprise Application Integration
Legacy applications such as mainframe-based applications, current applications using different operating systems and hardware, and databases that employ very different structures and logic combine to produce a chaotic situation.
Throwing away all the old applications and databases and starting with a new, integrated application is simply out of the question. Such an approach would mean throwing away not only the huge monetary investments in existing applications and hardware but also the invaluable business intelligence available in the databases.
It’s in this context that organizations seek to make the different applications talk to each other and exchange information among themselves. This is attempted in different ways with differing levels of integration.
Methods of Enterprise Application Integration
Data Interchange: The simplest solution is to interchange data among applications. Tools are used to extract data from one or more applications and transform it into a form recognizable by the recipient application. This approach can solve duplicate data entry, and can even be automated at least in part.
Programming Interfaces: Common interfaces that feed multiple applications can be programmed, achieving some degree of integration between the applications.
Shared Business Logic: Instead of synchronizing changes in multiple systems, integration is attempted at sharing the business logic among applications. Individual applications might be modified minimally to bring this about.
An Alternative to EAI
An approach used by Enterprise Content Management software is to create virtual repositories. Using XML and Web services, content from disparate repositories are made available from a “virtual” common source. The original content remains where it was, but can be made available wherever needed as the system has knowledge about its location and context.
Enterprise Application Integration becomes relevant in several contexts. Enterprise Content Management seeks to combine all enterprise content in a common repository, and EAI can help in this objective. EAI can also eliminate duplicate data entry and segmenting of business intelligence.
On the other hand, EAI can be a never-ending exercise with constant changes in the requirements, particularly government regulations. Enterprise Content Management systems might seek to solve this problem by using XML and Web services to “virtualize” a common repository or index of information in different application repositories, and deliver it wherever needed.