Construction and manufacturing projects often make use of jigs to simplify and accelerate complicated build processes. Jigs help position components, provide control of the tooling, and turn complicated builds into efficient, repeatable processes that can then be scaled to build the number of final assemblies needed.
Building IT solutions is very different than construction and manufacturing. Most of what we build is invisible. In fact, even after being implemented, we must use conceptual drawings to communicate how solutions works.
The solutions are ephemeral too. In part, because our building materials are digital 1’s and 0’s, and partly because the solutions support business needs that change quickly and use technology that is always evolving.
But just like construction and manufacturing, IT projects need a way to provide speed and agility in complicated situations, a way to mitigate risks and provide predictable results by leveraging prebuilt standardized functions that eliminate the need to start from scratch on every project. The right approach removes the constraints of heavy handed, centrally controlled processes and infrastructures resulting in development teams that are empowered and productive.
The Importance of Frameworks in IT Projects
Lightwell has an Enterprise Integration Framework that I think of as an application integration jig for IT projects. The Framework helps to delineate layers of abstraction along with their supporting components and provides the standardization and common processes and routines integration projects always require. And, though it controls how the tool is used, it does not dictate which one you must use.
I’m convinced that too much emphasis is placed on tooling. To that point, we have now implemented our Integration Framework using three different vendors' integration platforms: IBM’s, Mulesoft’s, and TIBCO’s. In each case, solutions built upon the framework met the functional and non-functional requirements and helped teams deliver on time with high quality.
With the right approach and a good design any of these three tools can meet the needs of an enterprise. Yet we see a lot of churn taking place; companies swapping out one of these three tools, along with the solutions they have built, only to spend a lot of money on one of the other three.
There may be good reasons for changing; consolidation, move to SaaS, cost management. In most cases though it is disappointment with the current tool that is used to justify change. Switching tools without a different and better approach leads to more disappointment.
The Team is Critical to the Success of Your Integration Projects
For the last few months, three Lightwell employees have been working with a customer as part of a newly-formed Integration Team. In a short period of time, the Integration Team has successfully supported a series of projects that had some complicated requirements and aggressive deadlines.
After proving they could hit the ROI targets and consistently supply on-time deliverables, the team was kept intact and assigned to another project. The same metrics were monitored this time as well. Along the way there have been expectations beyond those of simply developing the solution.
A year or so earlier, the Enterprise Architecture group saw that most of their projects involved interactions with SAP, cloud-based HR applications, warehouse management systems, and a number of other applications and integration challenges including API management. A new integration and API technology platform was purchased and installed. It became the responsibility of the integration team to develop and promote to production the first solutions as well as the necessary supporting processes for the new platform.
It was yet another challenge though that had the greatest potential for disruption. The Enterprise Architecture group had defined integration to include both applications and data. A significant data virtualization environment was in place when the new integration and API tooling was installed.
Most companies view data and integration as the responsibility of two very different teams. Often one reporting to IT and the other to the business. Regardless of reporting structure, in this case the two were expected to work and act as one team with a common goal; bring together the transactional world of guaranteed updates to backend systems, the orchestration of real-time events and API’s with ubiquitous connectivity and governed access to virtualized data.
The team put in place a set of principles, created a solid design and established trust among the team members that everyone was focused on the proper objectives.
Information Technology is all about People, Process, and Technology
Technology gets more emphasis than it should. On the people and process side, management is responsible for positioning people properly for success. Enterprise Architecture should be empowered and responsible for making certain key decisions and communicating those. Project leadership must reinforce those decisions and be the catalyst for an effective team.
In the case of the Integration Team, earlier decisions certainly helped position them for success. Management communicated clear objectives and used metrics which kept the team focused and willing to work together. All these things helped to create a chemistry that led to the team’s success.
Building the right team is an involved process. Many things made the Integration Team successful. More emphasis should be put on people and process.
It's clear that success requires more than just a different tool.
About the Author
Jim is Vice President of Integration based in the Rochester, NY Lightwell office. Jim was previously President of Leveraging Technology, acquired by Lightwell in September of 2019.
"I find it very rewarding to lead a team so capable of solving complex business and integration challenges and that consistently makes customers successful."