Sun Microsystems’ Rob Beauchamp on Holistic Integration

As senior director of product marketing for the identity practice at Sun Microsystems, Rob Beauchamp remembers — and it was not that long ago — when integration was considered a tactical process with the objective of knitting together systems and applications as quickly as possible.

To be sure, that is still a primary goal for such projects. However, it is no longer the only one. “Companies are changing the way they approach the integration process,” Beauchamp says. “As the expense of integration has gone up and its strategic relevance has increased, companies are looking at it more holistically.”

In an exclusive interview with CRM Buyer, Beauchamp explains this concept along with some of the ways systems integration — once the stuff of nightmares for chief information officers — has evolved in recent years.

CRM Buyer: Let’s start with what you mean by “holistic integration.”

Rob Beauchamp: Companies don’t want integration to be a single purchase task anymore. If they are going to go through all this work, they want to be able to leverage it and make it available across multiple projects or multiple uses.

CRM Buyer: How is this different from before? What are companies doing differently?

Beauchamp: Well, some companies are formalizing this process of optimizing and reusing integration efforts by creating a central organization to oversee integration projects. This organization looks to see if there are common uses in the various projects, and then they coordinate the work necessary to extend those uses to other projects. I have noticed this trend particularly in some of the larger companies.

CRM Buyer: When did you first start to see this?

Beauchamp: I guess the earliest I remember seeing this was two years ago. Now we are seeing it more often, as more companies are looking to extend Web services outside of the organization.

CRM Buyer: What other ways are companies leveraging systems integration beyond the tactical chore of knitting together two systems?

Beauchamp: Integration is as much [about] business process management improvement as it is wiring systems together. In fact, those are the two major issues I think of when I think of holistic integration — reuse and process improvement.

CRM Buyer: Can you provide an example of a typical project?

Beauchamp: A lot of companies are using integration to incorporate business process improvements throughout the company. One example would be a document approval process. You can leverage BPM and integration tools to set up a system in which that document is run by the appropriate people to be approved or not, and it is all done automatically in the background across different systems without manual integration.

CRM Buyer: So let’s say a company is getting ready to launch a project. What should they look for in a systems integrator?

Beauchamp: First of all, they should consider the scope of the integration project. Is it basically implementing two-point solutions — like with SAP? Or will it have a much broader scope?

CRM Buyer: What else?

Beauchamp: Companies should select a vendor that can provide a strategic value-add to a project. By that, I mean someone who can provide additional advice and counsel. This is true for both the infrastructure provider and systems integration.

CRM Buyer: What mistakes do you see companies making when they select a systems integrator?

Beauchamp: So often, people think when they select a systems integrator, ‘I need additional bandwidth,’ and don’t consider anything else. But they should be looking for a systems integrator that brings strategic value-add to a project — not just bandwidth. You want a vendor with whom you are strategically aligned.

CRM Buyer: Since companies are looking at integration differently now, one would assume they are facing challenges, unlike those experienced in past projects.

Beauchamp: Yes, that is true. Now that companies want to leverage the integration work already done, they are moving into new territory in many respects. Over the last six months to a year, I have heard companies ask about leveraging a combination of Web services with the existing integration already in place.

They want to know how to make that scale as they roll it out to a larger group of customers. They want to know how to make such a project more secure. That whole challenge of moving some of the integration already done in-house to improve a relationship with partners and customers — is the latest set of challenges that I have seen.

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