Whose fault is the integration hairball? Your chance to be a hairball hero

The integration hairball might be no one’s fault in particular—but it’s everybody’s problem. Enterprise architects are in an ideal position to move the enterprise from a mess of point-to-point integrations towards a more strategic architecture.


The hairball will only grow more tangled if your organization persists in the culprit practice of custom-coded integrations that meet the needs of an individual project at the expense of enterprise well-being.

It happened almost by accident. Point by point, year after year, your enterprise built application connections one at a time—HR to ERP, CRM to a data warehouse, and so forth. Project owners gained tactical expediency, but now the integration hairball has grown so unwieldy and complex that it’s hurting business performance and consuming IT budget with exorbitant maintenance costs. See Figure 1:

Figure 1: The scope of the integration hairball depicted here is not uncommon in many enterprises.

Enterprise architects know better than most that the hairball is far from ideal, and they’re seeing its consequences—an inability of IT to respond swiftly to business demands. As the hairball’s complexity grows, so does the risk that a report can’t be delivered on time, or that the enterprise can’t accurately account for basic metrics such as its top 10 customers.

The hairball will only grow more tangled if your organization persists in the culprit practice of custom-coded integrations that meet the needs of an individual project at the expense of enterprise well-being. Enterprise architects are in an ideal position to evangelize a rethinking of integration practices and transitioning towards a more strategic architecture.

Want to Be a Hairball Hero?

The hairball can’t be solved overnight, but that’s no excuse for not devising a roadmap towards a more effective integration model that reduces development and maintenance costs and better addresses business requirements.

Inventory the point-to-point mess. A key to solving the hairball is to understand its dimensions and complexity by inventorying points of integration. Capturing a complete inventory will take time, but you can start by using a metadata repository rather than Microsoft Word to document information exchanges for all new projects.

Standardize development practices. Advocate a ban on custom-coding in favor of a standardized process across all new integration projects. With the backing of the CIO and the right tools, your organization can take the critical step of ensuring the hairball doesn’t worsen. Once your developers are up to speed on the new tools, they’ll discover that re-use and sharing common elements is much faster.

Keep the customer in sight. Integration practices need to focus on the objectives of IT’s internal customers, not IT’s own activities. Start measuring success by tracking the percentage of deliverables that make it through an entire project lifecycle without needing to be reworked.

Build quality in. Ensure that development is done correctly the first time. The best practices that accrue through reusable, workflow-driven integration help ease the paradigm shift from a few large production releases to smaller, more frequent releases, increasing organizational agility.

At one consumer electronics company, the impetus for transforming integration was the shocking realization that development for each integration point cost $30,000. With 300 new integrations annually, the yearly cost was $9 million. Over several years of optimization, development costs were reduced to $750,000 and maintenance efforts were dramatically streamlined.

Join the integration discussion on LinkedIn, learn more in the Informatica white paper, “Untangle the IT Knot” and explore “The 7 Deadly Sins of Lean Integration” by Informatica’s John Schmidt.

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