Are you still working on Inter-Enterprise System and Application Integration?

Christoph Bussler, June 13th, 2007

If you are still working on Inter-Enterprise System and Application Integration, then you should re-evaluate and re-assess your research agenda, because

The World Moved On

One current development in the software industry is that the notion of "application" is changing in the sense that an application (or software system) does not necessarily have to be licensed and locally installed at an organization any more for the sole purpose of this one organization. The notion of application service provider (ASPs), who installed a software system and made its interfaces available over the Web, also changes as software vendors provide the hosting themselves, opening up a very different model of software as services (SaaS), see below.

A second current development integrates existing Web interfaces in new forms providing new functionality that has not been available before. The term "mash-up" is used for this development and gains significant momentum at this point, see the discussion below. The wider development is captured in the term "Web 2.0" that clearly departs from the notion of simply providing the user interfaces for a single software system, but instead becomes the integration point for several types of functions from different software systems available remotely over the Web infrastructure.

From an academic research viewpoint the topic of "integration" (application integration or inter-enterprise integration) completely failed from the angle of a clear conceptual and working model that is agreed upon by the research community (and industry for that matter). Unlike in the database research community with the relational database management system success, the research community around integration did never arrive at all to a sound foundation in terms of an appropriate conceptual model as basis for further research and industrial development.

SaaS (Software as a Service)

SaaS is very distinct from application hosting or making functionality available as Web Services. In a first characterization, SaaS is a specific engineering aspect for software systems that allows multiple tenants be present in the same installation of a software system. In fundamental terms, the software system is aware of several organizations that have their functionality and data implemented in a single installation of the software system. Traditionally this meant that the functionality is the same across tenants, only their particular data is different. Examples of this are where each customer shares the same functionality, but their data (e.g. bids, offers, financial power, etc.) is different. In addition to end user functionality, middleware services are available in this mode, too, in the meanwhile, e.g. Amazon S3 or Amazon SQS by

This multi-tenant awareness starts extending into the design-time domain where the software system configuration can be different for each tenant, but still in the same installation of the software system. An examples is that allows customers (tenants) to modify the design-time configuration. So the same software system in a single installation supports tenant-specific modification of design-time data.

However, the industry does not stop here. The notion of community is coming into the picture in different ways. One is the community of tenants. For example, allows tenants to form a community, i.e., they are aware of each other for mutual benefit. While all share the same functionality, they cooperate at the same time. Xeequa pushes further by providing a clear model of "data ownership" that goes beyond corporate boundaries following the insight that each person has a corporate life as well as a professional and private life (and data associated with those roles).

A second way of community, the developer community, is cultivated by where the development of the software system functionality is not limited to their own employees any more, but opened up to any developer who wishes to contribute. The developer goes to to develop, test and offer to the tenants. This clearly shows that the classical distinction of develop install use starts changing in fundamental ways.

In my mind, the community aspect will make all the difference, analogous to the effects that can be seen in other Web applications like or where the community provides ratings or other Web sites where the community starts adding meta-data for the community's mutual benefit.

Web 2.0

Still outside the corporate software system world, but for sure coming into it sooner or later, the Web 2.0 development addresses the integration of existing functionality available of the Web. For example, or integrates various sources like real estate offerings, spatial maps and financial information into one Web site. This combination is termed mash-up following the insight that the sum is greater then the individual parts. is tracking mash-up developments and the number is constantly increasing, making this a very important "movement".

Furthermore, the explicit notion of social networks like start to appear in this space as they can offer new type of functionality because of their explicit knowledge of social relationships., for example, does not only have static forward links (i.e., who is related to me and whom can I reach?), but also dynamic backward links (i.e., who looked at my social network profile)?

The World Really Moved On

In summary, the world really moved on from various viewpoints. In terms of integration this means that the entities that require integration changed in their nature quite a bit (as in fundamentally) requiring new thoughts and developments around it. The idea that an entity represents one organization is left behind completely as well as the notion that there is one location for integration for a given company or organization.

Of course, like all developments in IT and computer science, it takes time for all software systems to follow the SaaS and Web 2.0 model. And some of those software systems will never embark on this paradigm. However, the fact that this paradigm is picked up in all domains like sales, real estate, human resources, finance, and so on makes me believe that it will continue to grow and become main stream.

Meaning of "Integration"

So, if your heart is still in the world of integration, which is not necessarily a bad place to be, you need to ask yourself, what does "inter-enterprise" and "application" integration mean in this changing world and how the notion of "integration" will change going forward? And you need to ask yourself if maybe this time around it might be worth-while to put effort into a common conceptual model in the academic research community to achieve a similar success as the database research community achieved with relational database management systems.