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Enterprise Application Integration: It's a Marathon Not a Sprint

Darla Neargarth, Director - Enterprise Applications, Sargento Foods Inc. and Erin Allen, Director - IT Strategy & Architecture, Sargento Foods Inc.
Darla Neargarth, Director - Enterprise Applications, Sargento Foods Inc.

Darla Neargarth, Director - Enterprise Applications, Sargento Foods Inc.

As a mid-size business, our approach to Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) has been necessarily opportunistic, with advancements taking place as various system upgrades, replacements, and additions provided both the need and the platform. These platforms allowed for integrations that were easier to implement and maintain and provided more integration opportunities that may not have previously existed. This approach also resulted in a somewhat fragmented collection of integration middleware, but we enjoyed some early wins along with gaining much needed experience. At least we had our running shoes on!

We kicked off our marathon by finding an external provider for our EDI support needs and establishing a team focused on system integration. Various on-premise messaging platforms as well as cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-on-premise platforms, primarily orbiting our ERP, followed. These platforms are providing much need stability and resilience and cut the number of integration points by over 70% for just those systems.

While we will continue to leverage business technology projects as opportunities to mature our capabilities in EAI, we must also shift our focus to implementing more foundational platforms to expand our solutions beyond our ERP and EDI needs. Although EAI technologies such as Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are well-established and mature, the appeal and move to Software as a Service (SaaS) applications and rise of Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) must be considered as a viable and even preferable alternative to some of the classic solutions.

  ​Unlike a marathon, there is really no finish line for an EAI journey (nor any other technology), and the pacesetters seem to get faster every year. We will need to push ourselves to keep up the pace while setting realistic goals for our own personal best   

At a recent Gartner conference, they introduced the term “composable enterprise” as the next evolution in application development and integration. While the idea of being able to break down business capabilities into self-contained, modular components ready for consumption regardless of the back-end system is still futuristic, it further highlighted the need for us to make steady progress on our journey.

We see several benefits to pressing forward with EAI and we are excited to improve our capabilities:

• Better, faster data integration across disparate systems

• Common and simplified user experience across disparate systems

• Improved speed to deliver business value producing solutions

• Automation of processes for efficiency and quality improvements

• Ability to deliver more complex analytics that leverages disparate data sources

Erin Allen, Director - IT Strategy & Architecture, Sargento Foods Inc.We’ve often felt like we are running behind everyone else in adopting EAI platforms, and, admittedly, some foundational components continue to elude us. But, as we attend technology conferences, our conversations with other companies tell a different story. We are fortunate to not have large legacy systems we need to migrate to newer technology especially since we’ve recently completed an Enterprise resource planning (ERP) upgrade to newer architecture. This advancement has slowed our need for EAI in some areas. But it hasn’t slowed the requests and expectations from our business partners and employees for more fully-integrated technology-based solutions to improve their agility in an ever-changing and consumer-oriented business climate.

It can be challenging to articulate the business value of investing in a comprehensive EAI strategy apart from specific project-driven opportunities. Our resources and budgets are often a challenge when it comes to what we can accomplish on our technology investment list. After dedicating much of our resources to a major ERP upgrade for the last three years, the list is even longer. Conversations with our business partners on why we need EAI will need to speak to the value an EAI can provide in both the short- and long-term, such as those listed above. To succeed, we’ll need to get creative in how we implement EAI capabilities.

Unlike a marathon, there is really no finish line for an EAI journey (nor any other technology), and the pacesetters seem to get faster every year. We will need to push ourselves to keep up the pace while setting realistic goals for our own personal best. 

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