August 28th, 2018
In an earlier post, I wrote about how to build an integration center of excellence.
Instead of treating integration as a series of ad hoc engineering projects, an integration center of excellence (ICoE) makes creating and managing integrations a cross-departmental activity — engaging stakeholders in business, engineering, testing, operations and compliance.
The ICoE establishes integration patterns and standards, which are applied across the organization. Integration development becomes fast, predictable, and cost-effective.
Most IT development managers reading about these benefits would endorse the idea of an integration center of excellence. But to succeed, an integration center of excellence depends on multiple departments. Cross-departmental collaboration is crucial in creating a successful iCoE.
Having worked with dozens of organizations over the years on development projects large and small, my team at Visual Integrator Consulting and I have learned this hard truth: Even if the development team kicks off the initiative to create an ICoE, the initiative is bound to fail if it doesn’t involve the participation of other departments both inside and outside of IT.
To understand why collaboration is so important for the development of an ICoE, let’s look at one of the most important tools for creating a center of excellence: an integration roadmap.
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Start with a Roadmap
One of the first things my colleagues and I do when we engage with a company is to map out all the possibilities for improving integration in the company. We ask questions like:
- How could integration improvements help us offer new types of products or services to customers?
- How can integration improve the efficiencies of our organization?
- What applications need to be integrated?
- Who are the end users, and which workflows are involved?
- Which integrations are most important? Why?
- What capabilities does the company have today?
- What are some initial integration projects that could also help build our center of excellence?
The answers to these questions help us capture the big picture: how the business could benefit from improved integration, how agility and efficiency could be increased, and, ultimately, how integration could transform the business.
Next, we set about creating a roadmap. The goal of the roadmap is to outline concrete, measurable steps that build the organization’s overall capabilities for integration.
We typically begin with things like naming conventions and standard approaches for error handling and logging. These things should be consistent across the organization. You don’t want to have conflicting names in your integrations. And you want to make logging and troubleshooting simple and straightforward.
At this stage, we also select an integration platform. We want to have architectural consistency across the organization. The Dell Boomi integration platform (iPaaS) provides a low-code development environment that all departments can benefit from. And it comes with ready-to-use connectors and support for ecommerce operations such as electronic data interchange (EDI).
By standardizing on Boomi, we give everyone involved with the iCoE a common platform to draw upon. The ready-to-use connectors and wealth of expertise in the Boomi Community help everyone work more quickly and efficiently.
Once we’ve settled on a standard integration platform, we start mapping out the next steps for building integrations. These steps typically involve three “swim lanes” or task lists. Typically, there are three swim lanes in the roadmap:
- Integration development (building integrations)
- Data governance, security, and compliance
- Architecture, SLA agreements, and other activities ensuring that integrations meet the business requirements for connectivity and performance
Progress in these swim lanes needs to occur in parallel. You can’t afford to have developers spend time building complex integrations and then, at the end of the project, ask the company’s data governance experts for their thoughts on data governance.
Instead, you want to have the team responsible for data governance, security and compliance developing standards that developers can apply to all integrations across the organization. Enterprise architects should be involved from the beginning as well, ensuring that departmental projects fit into the organization’s overall architectural strategy.
Collaborate as You Go
Coordinating activities across the swim lanes requires collaboration. And by collaboration, we mean working jointly, identifying goals and challenges, and working together to advance through the tasks outlined in the roadmap.
This type of collaboration is more involved and more demanding than at a simple a weekly or monthly conference call, and it can’t be wholly contained in a Slack room. Everyone involved — and that includes employees from multiple teams and departments — should have assignments. Deliverables from one team will directly affect the daily work of other teams.
Here are some suggestions for managing this interdepartmental collaboration:
Get executive buy-in when the project begins
Invite department leaders to participate in the kick-off of the ICoE initiative and the development of the roadmap. Once they’ve bought into the project, they’re more likely to dedicate time and resources in their organizations to ensure the center of excellence succeeds.
Set realistic expectations early
Make it clear that creating an ICoE will create work for employees in multiple departments. Note, too, that the daily work of these employees may change — for the better — once the integration center of excellence takes shape. For example, the CISO’s team may be asked to develop security standards for integration, and once those are developed and shared with the center of excellence, security experts may no longer need to inspect individual integration projects so often.
Apply classic project management practices
Track progress across all the swim lanes and share updates with the team. Identify dependencies, so each team understands how its work affects the work of other teams.
Select the right integration platform for everybody’s needs
Make sure the integration platform you select meets the needs of all the teams. If the platform is of use only to advanced programmers, it’s probably not the right platform for an enterprise-wide initiative. Look for a rich feature set that helps developers, IT managers, and business users alike, like the Boomi platform.
Establish regular means of communicating and tracking progress across all teams
Figure out the mix for meetings, conferences calls and online chat that will work best for your organization, and stick to a regular schedule.
As integrations become easier to build and more effective for the organization, publicize those results internally to build support for the center of excellence initiative.
At Visual Integrator Consulting, we’ve seen organizations adopt these practices and transform their integration capabilities with an integration center of excellence, making their organization more agile, competitive, and effective. I’ll bet your organization can do the same.
About the author: Jordan Braunstein is chief technology officer and cofounder of Visual Integrator Consulting.