Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) and its Features
Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) refers to the seamless incorporation of two or more enterprise computer applications to enable them operate as a single system using a combination of software, hardware, processes and standards (Goldstone Technologies Limited, n.d.). It facilitates the creation of a dynamic business environment by permitting organizations to integrate their business processes both internally, and externally with their partners. EAI developed in response to the progression in distributed computing and the emergence of open information systems. There are three models of integration of applications: presentation, data and functional integration (Kalyani, 2012). In these models, new software in integrated into the system through the user interface, data and functionality of existing legacy software respectively.
During the initial stages of computer development in the 1950s, business organizations mainly used the mainframe central computing. This computer system allowed several business applications such as ERP and CRM to run on a standalone general-purpose computer. These applications could not communicate with each other due to incompatibility in their operating systems and database systems. Consequently, there arose a need to transmit and exchange information among these different applications simultaneously within an organization. Hence, the client-server system was developed to allow client computers to connect to a mainframe in order to access its data concurrently for varied purposes. This system further developed into the hub-and-spoke system, which enabled business organizations to exchange information by integrating their business applications. The hub-and-spoke system was the origin of EAI. EAI solved the problem of integrating dissimilar applications using a hub to translate messages and data between such applications. The hub converts all incoming data into a ‘standardized format called the canonical format’ that all components of the hub and outgoing adaptors can understand (IONA Technologies, 2006). The need for EAIs arose in response to several trends in the business field such as merger and acquisitions, E-business, industry regulation, business process automation and internet and intranet development.
The features of EAI are twofold: data level products and business model level products (Goldstone Technologies, n.d.). Data level products facilitate data transmission between applications. They include file transfer tools, copy management, database replication and extraction. Business model level products facilitate the seamless integration between two or more applications. They include tools such as remote and stored procedure calls, transaction processing monitors, message queuing and message brokers among others.
The main function of EAI is unrestricted sharing of data and business processes among several interconnected application systems. EAI uses an intermediate layer called the middleware that provide common interfaces through which the integrated applications can communicate. Secondly, EAI facilitates integration without major changes on the current computing infrastructure. Thus, it eliminates the cost of installing new systems. Thirdly, expedites the tracking of related business operations within a company such as sales, inventory and costs. Hence, it enables fast decision-making. Finally, it extends the capability of the middleware in coping with large numbers of applications. This capability develops through the multi-layers of application logic that create the seamless information transmission among applications.
The benefits of EAI are several. Firstly, it improves the relationship between companies and their stakeholder. Customers can easily access company information to familiarize themselves with products on sale and consequently make purchase decisions. Hence, it reduces the time and costs of marketing associated with conventional advertising strategies. In addition, EAI improves the business supply chain by facilitating real-time communication between the company and its distributors and retailers. Secondly, EAI improves internal systems by streamlining data sharing among various departments. This eliminates the latency between applications by enabling all functions of the company to run with the same updated information. In addition, it adapts to business needs such as mergers and acquisitions by integrating the processes of the merging companies into a single system for effective management. Other benefits include easy integration of additional applications into the system, creation of virtual organizations and the running of proprietary systems on the web.
Barriers to EAI
Some of the barriers to EAI include regular updates in response to changes in technology and the business environment, shortage of EAI experts, information security threats due to open systems.
EAI architecture describes how the interfaces and components of an EAI are interconnected and the methodologies for application integration. The EAI components are connected in various ways such as the hub, bus, point-to-point, pipeline and network topologies (Goldstone Technologies Limited, n.d.). The most common topology is the network topology, which allows applications to communicate with several other simultaneously. It is the suitable in situations with lots of synchronous activities.
Current trends in EAI architecture include an improved network topology. These improvements permit the total integration of applications through full conversion methods (IONA Technologies, 2006). Examples include the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) and the School Interoperability Framework (SIF). The next generation EAI technology provides the integration of more applications than the present EAI while eliminating the problems associated with a robust functionality. In addition, there is a shift from point-to-point interfaces to integration with packaged integration brokers. The latter uses high-level middleware such as message brokers to provide both data-level and program-level integration. It performs such as interfacing, transforming, distributing, routing and managing of data. Hence, it provides an extensive integration system unlike the point-to-point system which limits the number of integrated applications that can run on it.
Goldstone Technologies Limited. n.d. Enterprise Application Integration: An Overview. Retrieved on 31 Oct, 2014 from www.goldstonetech.com/investor%20info/white%20papers/EAI%20Overview.pdf
IONA Technologies. (2006). The Evolution from EAI to ESB. Retrieved on 31 Oct, 2014 from http://www.immagic.com/eLibrary/ARCHIVES/GENERAL/IONA_IE/I070809E.pdf
Kalyani, K. (2012). Recent Trends and Challenges in Enterprise Application Integration. The International Journal of Application or Innovation in Engineering and Management 1(4). Retrieved on 31 Oct, 2014 from http://www.ijaiem.org/volume1Issue4/IJAIEM-2012-12-26-036.pdf