by Todd Datz

Best Practices for Pursuing an IT Integration Strategy Aligned with Business Goals

Aug 15, 20022 mins
Data Center

Let the business be your driver. “Acquiring a thorough understanding of what your business needs are, and where those needs might evolve, is the starting point of building an integration strategy. Otherwise, it just becomes a technical discussion,” says Lloyd B. Taylor, corporate vice president of IT at Cargill, a manufacturer and distributor of food and agricultural products. Cargill, based in Wayzata, Minn., established an Enterprise Application Integration Center of Expertise, a one-stop-shop for business units with integration needs.

Articulate the benefits of integration to business-side executives. Sure, you need to do that with any IT initiative, but selling a CRM system is a lot easier than pitching an EAI project. Staples CIO Paul Gaffney emphasizes partnering with the business side and being tenacious in articulating the vision of your strategy. “At the end of the day, integration introduces additional cost advantage and leverage to the business,” he says.

Get your own house in order first, then look outside. Make sure you have a clear vision for enterprisewide integration before dealing with your external partners. If you don’t know the status of an order internally, you’ll be less than helpful when your supplier requests an order status.

Consider bite-size chunks. Integration projects can take a hefty portion of an IT budget. In a recent Forrester Research survey of 50 large companies, respondents expected to spend about $6.4 million in 2003 on integration. Integration projects had been running more than 20 months on average. And integration tools don’t come cheap. Gautam Desai, an analyst at Doculabs, a Chicago-based consultancy, says the software licensing costs for a typical configuration involving two servers and a backup environment ranges from $300,000 to $750,000. Services to get the initial integration up and running is two-and-a-half to five times that amount. Starting small, staying at the department level, then expanding out in future phases will help your learning curve while decreasing the chance of failure.

Get bang for your buck. “Spend your money where the money is,” says C. Webb Edwards, the CEO of Wells Fargo Services, on integration spending. “Integrate those companies where you’re making money and servicing profitable customers because there’s only so much money going around. Spend on businesses that help the bottom line.”