Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why is Integration such a big problem in Tech?

I’m starting this blog to share my 25 year experiences within the enterprise application development and integration space. This is a space where things have always been in a constant change and no more so, in my view, than today.

My first company, Pixel Innovations was started in the early days of “intelligent terminal emulators” where the goal was to integrate 2 extremely different worlds - the PC and very unintelligent 80x24 green screen. Starting with adding color (not just bold and underline), in those days, making an old “legacy” application “sexier” and “easier to use” was hot. Perhaps not a lot different than today except the list of technologies involved in bringing different applications together in the enterprise today is large. After going through the fat-client-thin-client to zero client and middleware integration changes, I sold Pixel to Quovadx (nasdaq:QVDX) in 2001.

Today, I have the pleasure of being the CEO of OpenSpan which I became involved in, in 2004. OpenSpan quite frankly had built a product that I really did not believe could be built. After being in the integration world for so long, I knew immediately their approach was unique and I jumped at the chance to run the company. We attracted top tier Venture Capital firms Matrix Partners and Sigma Partners and also brought on board a strong management team, of who most helped take JBOSS to their eventual acquisition by Red Hat. They were all as excited by the opportunity to change the integration landscape as I was.

So, why is Integration such a big problem in Tech?

Every time a new application is delivered in the enterprise to a user, on their Windows (most likely) desktop, it's a sad fact that that application probably won't be able to talk to any of the other applications on that users desktop! OK, that's not quite true - good old fashioned copy and paste (the number one desktop integration solution in use today) will probably still work! It's a strange world today when everything you read about talks about solving the worlds integration problems and yet copy and paste really is the number one desktop application integration solution. Sure, there is a ton of integration going on behind the scenes and there is no belittling the effort going on there. However I am always amused (or saddened) by the fact that users MS Office application doesn't really talk to their CRM system or the Billing application doesn't really talk to the document imaging system.

The truth is, there are more silo’s of applications on the desktop today still (and growing) then there are truly integrated server based solutions. Applications, by the time they reach the user will assume for the most part, they are the only application on that users desktop and won’t talk to anything else. Whether you are using a host green screen client, a Rich internet Application or just a plain ol' vanilla web page, chances are you are still using copy and paste for "enterprise" (workflow) tasks. What we are excited about at OpenSpan with what we are calling “the new enterprise desktop”, is now, as new applications arrive at the desktop (Rich, fat, thin, web, host), we can almost instantly “enable” them to integrate intelligently with any of the existing applications found there too. Even now, with newer Web 2.0 solutions arriving on the scene, like Google Applications for the enterprise, OpenSpan enables them to work with all the other enterprise applications – all without the need for any back end programming. Imagine integrating all of your existing desktop applications, without code, quickly and easy, today. Add a web service to an existing application in hours, not months or years – that’s the way it always should have been in my view.

Most business people think of integration as being a long development undertaking because their experience has taught them that for the last 20 years or more. The “new enterprise desktop” from OpenSpan provides an iterative ROI approach. A recent customer saved over $5m a year by automating a large group of user workflows. 8 desktop applications were integrated in under 10 days. Now the customer has been trained to manage these new integrations and workflows through the OpenSpan Studio visual IDE so they can keep building ROI after ROI. A nice and long awaited change for the integration world. Why is Integration such a big problem in Tech? It doesn't always have to be now.