Thursday, July 06, 2006

Is there a place for 'lightweight' integration?

Integration and workflow (aka SOA and BPM) are core components of new account opening. New customer applications need to be accepted, validated through multiple steps, have the data passed to and from backend systems, and eventually fulfilled as an account and welcome package for the customer.

SOA and BPM offer formal frameworks for pulling the whole end to end process together. But what if your process could do with a bit of improvement here and now, while standards (both technical and business e.g. NAVA) and your IT team get themselves to a level of completeness and competence that enables an even partial shot at providing straight-through processing?

In the world of Web 2.0, lightweight integration of online applications, services and components is termed a mashup. It often represents a small component of a larger system being incorporated to provide a distinct service, and is often performed rapidly with scripting on the front-end with zero coding on either system involved.

I believe that mashup is a great term that could be applied to an Enterprise Portal for your company's intranet applications. You know the things, where you can look up a colleague's phone number in the same screen as entering your vacation time and getting at the company's latest and greatest marketing materials. Its visual web technology in action, so it loosely couples all of the pieces successfully.

Unfortunately my time (12 months) looking at the Sarbanes-Oxley problem in US companies made me realize how much of a benefit 'agile aggregation and deployment' of applications (a mashup by another name) could be. Many companies are running their most complex compliance processes (like financial year close) on spreadsheets stored on the P: drive and distributed by email. And in these companies most of the finance department is run on Excel based data and macros, roughly put together by an Excel Queen (aka Accountant) with zero testing or management.

Given this, imagine what a benefit a semi-seamless combination of basic applications could give these finance professionals for coordination and sharing of work, tasks and data.

Its not ideal, and I wouldn't trust my paycheck to make it into my account if Oracle Financials was replaced with a mashup of the next new web accessible DB, cobbled together with the ADP outsourced check-cutter.

There are many thought-leaders in SOA, BPM and Web 2.0 that argue both for and against mashups in 'real' organizations and processes. For example, Steve Jones in his Service Architecture (SOA) blog strongly resists the idea. The programmableweb site has a different view.

For those processes and parts of the organization that have little structure anyway, or still run paper processes (for example new account opening), maybe a mashup approach could cut the mustard, enabling some level of online coordination and tracking to be put in front of over-stretched users, fast.

Its a highly flawed idea, but one that I bet many organizations do now, or are likely to follow in the near future, just by a more corporate friendly name.

[UPDATE] I forgot to mention Neil Richardson and his Little by Little blog where he talked about risk management. His post actually gave me a reason to link this topic back to compliance issues rather than just talking generally about SOA and mashups. Nice one Neil!

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