Tools for business integration

As the new year begins, IBM's Malaysia country manager shares his insights into issues and fundamentals that are still hot today in IT and will continue to be relevant for the year ahead.

The recent explosion in corporate mergers, acquisitions and e-commerce, demonstrates how companies are doing all they can to maintain a competitive advantage in a changing market place. But these strategies will work only if they enable collaboration between different business systems.

The challenges of business integration vary from enterprise to enterprise. And understanding why business integration is critical to your company's success is key to making it work.

A changing marketplace

A number of factors are driving the need for business integration:

  • Mergers and acquisitions seek to leverage the strengths of two companies and often demand the integration and automation of business processes. Get it right, and you can create opportunities for cross-selling, better service and cost reduction. Get it wrong, and chances are the benefits of the merger will be lost.

  • Supply chain management is increasingly being seen as the key to competitive advantage. The obvious benefits of a tight supply chain are reduced inventory and improved cash flow. More satisfied retail customers and greater control of inventory and manufacturing processes are by-products of such efforts.

  • Customer relationship management can set an organization apart from the competition in a commoditized world. And, since it costs less to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one, strong customer relationship management saves money, too. From cash machines at banks to Web browsers, IT is the primary means of customer service delivery today.

  • Straight through processing (STP) is a target for the finance industry, particularly for trading systems, where the relationship between trader and broker depends on confidence in speed and 100% reliability. STP aims to reduce the cost of processing delays and human error by automating the flow of information from data capture to confirmation processing, all without the need for manual intervention.

  • Typically, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system envisions an integrated, standardized enterprise-wide system. But vision and reality are two different things. On average, for every dollar spent on an ERP system, nine are spent on subsequent integration. All too often, ERP projects become derailed because of issues like linking existing applications with new ERP system, or extending it to supply chain partners.

  • E-commerce on the Web is growing at a frantic pace -- and it still hasn't reach anything near its full potential. What's holding it back? Integration. The most difficult challenge facing most companies on the Internet is integrating their Web sites to their existing systems.

While the need for -- and benefits of -- integration are clear, finding the right tools to make it happen can prove a challenge. How can companies win in this challenging environment?

Business Integration solutions include:

  • Secure, reliable exchange of information between systems: message queuing software that provides reliable transfer of information between computer applications on a range of platforms - from PCs to mainframes

  • Scalable, secure sharing of data and files: enterprise file systems technology creates a common integrated computing environment that enables users to share and access their information -- regardless of where its held, or on what platform.

  • Productive tools for building e-business applications: enterprise-scale development environments for building run-anywhere e-business applications.

  • Universal network communications: quick and seamless network access to central information repositories to build better connections to business partners and customers.

  • High-performance Web application servers: application servers that can scale to changing business requirements, to support business applications from simple Web publishing to enterprise-scale transaction processing and collaborative application.

  • Leading database software: data, the critical information about customers, suppliers and inventory, must be integrated with a business' efforts to improve customer service. Web-enabled database solutions are needed for tight integration with legacy data and connections to popular databases.

  • Systems management: as more companies depend on e-business solutions to conduct business, IT departments must ensure that these systems remain up and running at all times. Systems management products centrally manage entire computing enterprises, including systems, applications, hardware and network devices.

Integrate for success

Fueled by e-commerce, your markets and brands are becoming increasingly globalized. At the same time, competition arrives quickly and from unexpected places, and your customers are growing ever more sophisticated.

Business integration is the key to meeting all these challenges.

Chew Chuan Chin is the Country Manager for IBM, Malaysia.