Good Essay On Eai Overview
(City & State)
Internet has played a major role in shaping the traditional market. Customers and suppliers are now linked by computer networks and communication is on a global context. Both buyers and sellers offer attractive opportunities facilitated by the internet. In this era, customer has quite a number of platforms to evaluate offers from different vendors and make decisions. Buying goods over the internet is common nowadays and tracking their purchases until it is delivered to their door steps is made easy. Purchasing is no longer restricted to a geographic location of the buyer, rather, customers can buy from anywhere in the world and have their goods shipped to their locations.
The global customer only has to worry about the product offering and the value proposition accompanying it as all other aspects are taken care of by IT. It can be argued that information technology has shifted purchasing power to the customers. Firms selling their goods and services over the internet also benefit in a major way. They save cost and derive efficiency through effective supply chain management and inter-organizational integration. E-commerce platform has opened up market to sell, buy, advertise and promote a product or a service and interact with customers continuously. Every establishment or business is on the rush to move to e-commerce platform and establish competitive advantage before competition becomes rife. Firms are striving to offer their customers the best packages and win them over before others do. The business drive to adopt and establish well in the e-commerce platform has created new strategic imperatives for organizations to act faster, be flexible and reduce their overall costs. Information systems are now playing a pivotal role in the business environment. There are mixed reaction on the role of information systems. While they can provide greater opportunities to an organization, they can also provide significant threats. For instance, a website that sells goods without notifying consumers that it has a lead-time of 8 weeks provide poor customer service and this may result in decreased customer base. On the other side, the use of information system can facilitate provision of lead-time information as well as other value-added information such as order tracking, shipping information and customization which result in customer satisfaction and increased base. This, however, has a trade-off, it requires seamless flow of information across the organization.
The disparate nature of information systems in many organizations makes attainment of this provision a daunting task. Information systems in organizations have been built to serve a specific segment of users. It is common to see information systems that are customized to fit a specific segment without extending integration capabilities. This may be due to the fact that business applications are maintained on legacy applications with unstructured databases. The technology supporting such systems is utterly outdated and is usually in packaged solutions. Though extremely complex, they deliver the needs of the organization with a caveat, they cannot be readily exchanged between sections. The emergence of new technologies leads to accumulation of significant amounts of information in information systems. An island of information developed with each island associated with a respective technology. Information flow and exchange between various segments in the organization is affected and that is why management of customer becomes a huge task.
One of the ways of overcoming this challenge with introduction dire changes on the nature of applications and data structures is to use Enterprise Application Integration. EAI basically provide unrestrictive access to information in an enterprise. It is striking to businesses because it offers the capability to leverage legacy applications and provide seamless information and process flow for customers and organizations. The results are efficient interaction between businesses and its customers and it is at this point that e-commerce can provide value.
The earlier days of computing was characterized by centralized processing systems where processes and data were existed in homogenous platform. For applications to be integrated with others, additional coding was required. As innovative technology emerged, new programming paradigms were created. Concepts and technologies such as Object Oriented Programming, SOA and enterprise resource planning became the norm and in a rush to adopt these new features, organizations did not put enough consideration in the underlying architecture. It decisions were distributed and made at IT departments with each segment deciding the best technologies and solutions for its operations. The result was accumulation of systems with different architectures and dissimilar features. The advantages with these systems is that they provide the best services to a department because of customization but on a wider organizational environment, they provided diminished value because they could not be leveraged with other applications.
Driver of EAI
Integration in an organization is driven by three main factors; e-commerce, ERP software and mergers and consolidation. E-commerce has presented itself as a formidable platform for conducting business activities in an organization. It presents huge benefits in terms of investment, cost reduction and high efficiency. The question many businesses are struggling with is how to leverage it to achieve the most with minimal risks. E-commerce requires integration of business practices and processes. Processes such as procurement, customer service, logistics and supply chain management and sales order processing must be integrated and presented in a single interface. This increases transparency and satisfaction on the side of the customer and smooth flow of operations on the organizational side. The integration of business processes within firms and extending beyond the enterprise require fine-tuning of internal systems that provide functionality to web services. This involves merging and exposing applications with front-end systems available over the web to facilitate transactions over the internet, intranet and extranet and is only possible if legacy applications are altered. EAI enables firms to improve interaction between customers by getting a clear picture of what they want. Customers on the other end gets to know the business as an integrated entity rather than individual departments and this improves transparency and attract more loyalty. EAI facilitate roll out of services by taking advantage of data and information in legacy applications. By busing EAI, IT departments do not have to develop or debug existing applications, rather, developers just add web front-ends that are necessary to launch new services necessitated by e-commerce. The new service offering via e-commerce reduce time-to-market and allow competitive prices for consumers and business efficiency and low operating costs for businesses.
One of emerging trends in business environment is the use of ERP applications. ERP software is known to streamline processes in an organization and deliver high profit and value. However, the manner in which ERP applications are deployed is an impediment to seamless flow of information. It is common to see ERP applications for financials, human resources and other disparate segments in the enterprise. While data within ERP applications are integrated, it is normally difficult to integrate the specific ERP modules with other prepackaged systems in the enterprise that are not designed for integration. Another hurdle is integration with legacy systems. Businesses have been struggling with the idea of integration for a long time. The problem is exacerbated by client/service systems architecture. What is expensive to build is is easy to integrate and vice versa. While all organizations are struggling with costs, they end up falling for inexpensive systems which are hard to integrate. As business shift from departmental applications to business processes architecture, the requirement for integration is magnified and the financial consequence of this is huge for organizations to bear. Organizations are spending huge amounts of their revenue in integration with ERP systems. According to a report by Aberdeen group, there were significant increases in IT spending between the periods 1998 to 2000 to a tune of 150%. Thus, the need for EAI is massive for organizations who would like to leverage enterprise applications.
Mergers and consolidation
Mergers traditionally expand business functions and coverage while reducing costs and streamlining operations. As businesses seek to increase their niche market, they do so by acquiring or merging with other organizations. It is natural that applications in merged enterprises run on different platforms due to the initial diverse structure of the organization. The problem with mergers and acquisition is that it takes a great deal of time and effort brings applications to one platform. In most instances, the processes are painful because organizations have to procure brand new applications and systems where customization cannot be conducted. EAI comes in handy to solve this issue.
Characteristics of approaches, models and frameworks
Enterprise application integration has a core role of providing enterprise-wide connectivity and avoiding information islands. It characteristics include:
Integration of business and data processes
Distribution and reuse of applicable business processes and data
It is directed at the user side of the application where there is little understanding of the system specific functions
There is no requirement for source code administration or access rights
No existing change to existing hardware infrastructure
Architecture of EAI
EAI products offer functionalities in layers. There are four distinct layers in EAI. Communication service layer is the lowest layer and coordinates data movement. IT components in a system are connected to the communication layer by adapters that route data and services with EAI software. The process may be based on a remote procedure call or messaging queuing system. The distribution is responsible for distributing information and routing messages to the different application components. Their operations are based on request/response or publish/subscribe. The transformation layer translates any data or IT component that is not in the desired state. Transformation layer synchronization any service before it is finally sent to the input component. Finally, business rules are there to govern the business process flow. The business process layer coordinates business processes and allows intra- and inter-organizational processes.
Normally, middleware is used to link two components and provide one-to-one connectivity. The issues with middleware is that it does not provide visibility of underlying business processes because it it is technology and application-dependent. The lack of knowledge-ability of underlying business processes restricts it to the first two layers of the EAI architecture. EAI solves the problem of middleware by extending it beyond the two layer to all the layers. It provides point to point solution and connectivity with focus on the holistic needs of the enterprise.
An EAI interface design is a complicated and invasive process that involves encapsulation of legacy code with new application programming interface. Interface design will facilitate the addition of new functionalities but it is expected that some system and business processes will change. A new interface design is expensive but once in place, will facilitate re-use of business logic and enhanced integration.
In order to allow EAI software to be used by multiple applications while hiding the details of the actual applications, legacy code is wrapped with an interface encapsulating the application’s functionality. Another option is to translate legacy code to component-based language such as CORBA or Enterprise Java Beans.
The business logic in the legacy application is captured, redesigned and additional functionalities added before finally deploying in the new platform. This is required in scenarios where legacy system is critical to business processes and a ready-made application cannot be sourced. Some legacy analysis techniques such as software asset management and knowledge mining are applied to reduce the risk and cost of integration.
XML and Enterprise Application Integration
EAI seeks to establish and control information distribution throughout the enterprise. The requirement is a common and standardized mode of data sharing irrespective of data source and destination. Extensible Markup Language is one of the available solutions to satisfy this requirement. XML is a simplified detachment of Standardized General Markup Language and differs from HTML in its functionality to handle context and dynamic information behavior. Combination of XML and EAI is becoming more useful given the different data formats and business processes such as supply chain which encompasses multiple organizations. XML was traditionally developed for the internet but its features and capabilities allow it to be deployed in EAI. It is possible to transmit information between the server and the browser and also between applications. It is not database-specific thus, facilitate extraction of structured from any. Other features that make it favorable for use with EAI include; combination with HTML to deliver stronger web functionalities, independent display of data, client-side data manipulation and no prior knowledge of sender data.
XML is preferred for use in EAI e-commerce environment because it allows seamless exchange of information between inside and outside systems in the enterprise. One limitation of XML is the requirement for data to XML documents. This process depletes organization bandwidth and degrades network performance. In order to counter this, applications need to be redesigned to be asynchronous instead of synchronous. The second issue is security. XML suffers security defects because of its unsecured message status. Though encryption and decryption can be used to protect data, there is a requirement that XML should keep all its data in its entirety and manage the viewing of subsets of the document. Encryption standards for XML documents have not be developed sufficiently
EAI and e-commerce
The role of EAI is to streamline business processes in an organization. Just as process engineering streamlines and enhances business efficiency, integrating critical applications such as enterprise software with EAI improves information flow. B2B e-commerce streamline internal and external business processes to drive sales and increase customer satisfaction. While it is normal for an organization to choose a technology to integrate its internal systems, external associations with customers, suppliers, and others are not gathered for. For instance, if accompany goes for a messaging system to facilitate its internal communication, it is expected that its business partners will go for the same messaging system to integrate their processes. Business to business frameworks has been developed to solve this gap. There are standards such as EDI used by businesses to transact business. For the past three decades, EDI has dominated technology in e-commerce. However, the limitations are its cost, implementation technicalities and lack of interoperability with other similar systems.
Business to Business frameworks are facilitators of e-commerce in enterprises. They must work with multiple businesses in addition to providing efficient integration mechanism between disparate applications. B2B frameworks are a resemblance of EAI because they define generic interfaces rather than one-to-one interfaces. They also provide inter-operability framework for business entities. Thus, they satisfy the process management requirements of the EAI architecture.
A web service which is a combination of a number of technologies such as XML, WSDL, UDDI, and SOAP allows the organization to design, catalog, and public business functions. Web services eliminate the problems of interoperability because it leverages open internet standards such as WSDL. It is an enabler that provides reliability, security and interoperability in EAI architecture. The advantage of web services over traditional EAI is that it is based on open standards and hence, dynamic, flexible and efficient. Without use of web services, integration processes would be difficult and complex. Thus, they are the plug and play device to bridge peer-to-peer services with limited requirements for interoperation except with XML.
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