Integration is critical for just about anything significant an IT organization wants to achieve.
Deploying a new business application? You’ll need to integrate it with your other applications and data sources.
Creating a new business model? You’ll need to support it with data from the established parts of your business.
Migrating to the cloud? You’ll need integration to transport data and to stitch new cloud applications into the rest of your infrastructure and operations.
An integration center of excellence (ICoE) — sometimes called an integration competency center — ensures that all these projects are completed in the best possible way, following best practices across disciplines and making the most efficient use of people and IT resources.
But what are the best practices for creating an integration center of excellence? Based on my extensive work building ICoEs for large enterprises in multiple industries, I've put together a short list of the key things to focus on for success when launching your new integration center of excellence.
1. Get Executive Support From the Start
Ultimately, an ICoE is about governance. It’s about defining standards, best practices and team member responsibilities. An ICoE helps ensure those things are applied consistently across the organization for every integration project.
But you’re not going to be able to enforce those standards and best practices without the support of executives. Implementing change in any organization is hard enough. Implementing it without the approval of your directors, vice presidents and C-level executives is even harder.
So solicit the support of IT leaders, including the CIO. Get them to show their support for the ICoE and its work, so that when the ICoE recommends doing something in a way that wasn’t done before, concerns and conflicts can be resolved.
2. Look for Early Wins
For the first few projects, look for integration jobs that are quick and easy to implement, so that the ICoE can get used to working together and can begin to develop a reputation within the organization as an effective team.
The jobs shouldn’t be daunting or complex. It’s OK for them to be important, but they shouldn’t be business critical. The initial project shouldn’t last longer than two or three months. It should be a relatively quick win that demonstrates the value of the ICoE.
These projects are opportunities for the ICoE to work out the mechanics of handling all phases of the project. When tougher projects come up, the team will already have some experience working together and refining its roadmap and guidelines.
Keep in mind that adopting an ICoE is a cultural change as well as a technical change. It involves getting lots of people, including developers, to adopt new tools and processes. These early projects let people get used to a different way of doing things. The benefits should quickly become obvious.
3. Guide Integration Projects at Every Stage
For any integration project in the organization, the ICoE should be involved from beginning to end. If not, the lack of ICoE involvement at any stage will likely undermine the effectiveness of the ICoE and, ultimately, the results of your integration efforts.
The work of the ICoE really comes down to these four phases:
Discovery is where the ICoE initially engages with a project, meeting with all the stakeholders in the IT organization and business units. Discovery includes gathering requirements, formulating guidelines, documenting everything, and building a plan.
The ICoE is going to provide standardization — a standard way to engage the business and define a project roadmap, a reference architecture, deliverables and the processes to be used for building and then managing the integration.
By the end of the discovery phase, all this work should be defined. You know how you’re going to approach integration generally and how you’re going to tackle your initial projects specifically.
In the delivery phase, the ICoE ensures work is carried out according to best practices for designing, building and testing integrations.
If my Boomi professional services team is involved in the project, this is where we’ll help the organization make the most of the Boomi integration platform for creating, managing and deploying the integration.
The end result of this phase is a working integration that has been built faster, cheaper and smarter, thanks to better tools and the standardization and scalable best practices that come from working through an ICoE.
The third phase is operations. This is where the ICoE works with the operations team on issues such as runtime processing, monitoring, alerting and notifications.
The ICoE is going to help the IT organization govern and manage the integration. If the organization doesn’t have sufficient monitoring tools in place, the ICoE might make recommendations for adopting new tools or putting new processes in place.
Once monitoring tools are all set up, the ICoE works with operations to ensure that there’s a standard approach for monitoring and alerting. This ensures that integrations are not only being built consistently but that they’re also being deployed and run consistently, too.
This fourth phase is governance, which involves standardization and policy enforcement.
In the discovery phase, you should have developed a roadmap and a reference architecture. Now, we’re going to make sure that the new integrations are built, managed and monitored in accordance with those critical documents.
We’re going to ensure that best practices have been followed and things that should be standardized really have been.
In our consulting work with enterprises, my Boomi professional services team and I have seen the difference an integration center of excellence can make for an organization.
Integrations are built better and rolled out more quickly. The result? Business stakeholders can access the data and applications they need to do their jobs.
Follow these best practices, and you’ll be able to create and manage your ICoE more quickly, predictably and profitably.
About the AuthorMore Content by Chris Larsen