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An Intro to Enterprise Application Integration (EAI)

Keyboard with "Enterprise Application Integration" taped onto the keys

Enterprise application integration (EAI) is a vessel of ease and efficiency. In its simplest and most practical form, EAI is designed to improve the connectivity of applications within an enterprise. Though the term “EAI” wasn’t coined until the early 2000s, the greater concept is decades old: find a way to seamlessly connect the critical systems of an enterprise that would otherwise function separately from one another. EAI can be defined as the unrestricted sharing of data and business processes among any connected application or data sources in the enterprise. 

EAI attempts to join multiple business-critical systems that are themselves, distinct. The value of application integration is visible in companies relying on both physical and online inventory management. Businesses must catalog items, track inventory and keep up with what has been shipped versus what appears for “sale” in an online catalog. However, communication between inventory systems isn’t automatic. This example requires an application integration solution; a data exchange from the local physical inventory system and the online store.

It is often imperative for organizations to find solutions that enable all of their existing operating systems to communicate and share data. Thankfully, there are many different levels of integrations including; read only, two-way integration, point to point integration and a 3rd party integration with a “middle man” to talk to both sides. There has never been more available resources to simplify supply chain management and data integration across multiple applications.

Read Only Application Integration: Who knows what, when?

With a read only integration, one system simply reads from the other and there are always two separate sets of data. In the example of an inventory system with an online catalog, in the event of a mistake, any remediation has to happen manually. I.e., when a user completes the check out process to purchase an item, the item is decremented from the online store catalog. When the package is shipped, the item is manually scanned and decremented from the physical inventory of items.

With this type of data exchange, the website assumes that the inventory system is the master of record, until someone in the warehouse actually changes it. Can you see where this system might fail? When the physical inventory system and online inventory system can’t speak to one another, duplication and data errors are much more likely to occur.  So we have to solve both the communication between the systems and the business processes: “who knows what, when?”

One-Way Integration: Master and slave

 One way data integration is exactly as it sounds, one system holds the master record. In our inventory management example, one-way integration would look like this: Your website’s inventory stock management system is able to write to the physical inventory stock management system, but the physical inventory system is not able to update data on the website. The communication is one-way.

Two-Way Integration: Awareness of success or failure

The premise of two way data integration can be found in non-repudiation; the awareness of success or failure. For example, say you visit an online store and make a “purchase” you follow the checkout process but the communication fails in some way, an error occurs, the inventory system was being rebooted and it didn’t get the data, or there was a freakout with the public internet. One way or another, data was lost.

Non-repudiation suggests that regardless of whether or not information makes it to its end goal it still has to be recorded.

Two way data integration that relies on non repudiation is more common than is probably healthy within the industry. In a world where security and privacy is important, data integrity is often lost with two-way integration.

EAI: Leveraging a middle man

When read only, one-way, and two-way integrations aren’t advanced enough to support business critical processes, a more comprehensive integration architecture must be employed.  True EAI utilizes a 3rd party “arbitrator” that reads from both systems to connect and share the enterprise data. For the sake of managing business applications and software applications, the arbitrator, or “middle man” replaces the typical slave and a master structure with a third party integration that reads from both systems. 

This model doesn’t call for communication to happen between each system, they both simply read and write to a shared data source. I.e. There is one individual data source that both systems leverage. This form of data integration is the most common, though it’s not the simplest, nor the best, it is the least intrusive.  It requires the least amount of change to the original systems.

  • For example, in the world of banking, this integration method is very useful.  Legacy systems built to keep detailed financial records are often outdated. It is unrealistic and taxing on customer relationships for a business to shut down its entire system just to make updates.  Leveraging a middleware framework (software that lies between an operating system and the applications running on it), developers can easily update data structures while abiding by business policies or rules.

3 Key Benefits of EAI

  1. Vendor Independence EAI promotes vendor independence; the extraction of business rules that can be implemented into an application.  Proper utilization of EAI allows vendors to work independently from one another, no matter who created them.  If a vendor is exchanged, business rules do not have to be reinforced. 
  2. Eradicate Discrepancies The purpose of EAI is to remediate any differences in data.  Typically, you have two systems that have to present the same data to different audiences. Those audiences have the same interest in that data but they don’t have the same access to validation of it. The purpose of EAI is to limit/avoid business problems by keeping information up to date. The depth that those systems are integrated, the more closely they adhere to the same set of data in real time, the less likely you are to encounter business and customer experience issues.
  3. Integration Without Interruption The benefit of leveraging EAI is that you are able to stand up an integration between systems without interrupting the usage or customer interactions with either of the original systems.

Key Takeaways

EAI leverages existing infrastructure, saturating the value out of an investment while also being able to expand its value for other business processes. When a business is leveraging a legacy system, they have an established process, they don’t want to have to retrain their team. Implementing EAI provides an easy pathway to build anew without ignoring the old.

Our software development team provides application integration services and cloud computing solutions for clients around the globe, check out our recent projects.

Richie Harris