Friday, May 27, 2011

Value In The Integrated Metadata Stack

If you're using or looking at Agile Integration Software (AIS), the chances are you are discovering that there's metadata for everything that's not tied down (and even for those that are). Think about the conceptual epitome of integration. There have been various analogies over time, conjuring up a brain with information flowing (ENS - Enterprise Nervous System), or the flow and pervasiveness of water, and more recently we hear about the fabric. A few years ago I coined the term "synchronapse" to represent the idea of information flowing intelligently, like synapses firing anywhere as needed. Of course, that never took off - new words are fun, but an uphill battle.

I like the fabric metaphor. Good word: the fabric of nations, the geologic structure of a roc; something that represents the essence and the underlying structure; maintaining integrity but flexibly, so that if one point on the fabric moves, the fabric shifts to accommodate that change.

The only way to capture and control the fluid movement of the fabric and be able to ensure that the enterprise can quickly respond to internal and external changes, is to describe everything that can change with metadata. That's a cornerstone philosophy of AIS. Whether the fabric needs to adjust for planned business initiatives or unforeseen external events, the supporting integration infrastructure is adjusted via metadata changes.

Notwithstanding security controls, the full metadata stack must be available to any object or process in the environment, so that conditions at one point on the fabric can affect change in another. That is at best very difficult if each component of your integration stack has its own independent set of metadata. With AIS, as you build your integration with GUI tools, the various layers of metadata and the inter-relationships across the layers is being captured and managed automatically.

What's the value of an integrated metadata stack?
  • Reusability of metadata across the stack
    • Example: a for-purpose data selection from a source (e.g., customer demographics) can be reused as needed for any map. Also rules and formulas are reusable, along with processes and many other objects.
  • At run-time, any business rule can take action based on current values of any metadata
    • Example: a different transformation map can be executed depending on customer ID
  • Any layer can incorporate other metadata by reference
    • Example: an enterprise master data model can reference all the metadata that is needed to bi-directionally access and federate the appropriate sources

This is definitely one of the cool things about Agile Integration Software, possible because it's an IDE, all under one roof.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Soft Side of Tech Debt

The lean and mean beats the sloth. Sure, some rabbits are a "flash in the pan," but eventually the turtle will lose. As I recall, in that fable the rabbit was fast but lazy and not so smart. You can't count on that being the case with your competitors that have less tech debt than your company. Just look at the big Dotcom successes. They solved problems that hadn't been solved before with completely new approaches and carried no tech debt. Now the problems they solved so well have become shared technology demands for the old "bricks and mortar" companies, implicitly increasing their tech debt, and whittling away at their competitive advantage.

Tech debt refers to the ever-increasing overhead and cumbersome nature that technology infrastructure brings to your company. Old programs that have been patched over and over, ancient hardware, and ever changing trends over time contribute to the tech deficit .  Moving toward new trends always complicates your infrastructure unless you can make the 100% shift. Without a complete shift, the left-over ballast limits your ability to leverage new trends.

There is a soft underbelly of tech debt that can be equally debilitating to your company's competitive advantage, and that is the collective aspects of the IT department and services that prevent you from being able to address and keep up with the demands from the business side. There's a backlog of projects, too few people, and not enough of the right skills on the IT team. The focus is on high-profile, new trend projects that presumably would alleviate some of the older creaking infrastructure.

"All I need is five data points for my dashboard every week. How can it be that I'm looking at six months before I get it?" or, "I'm just building a little SharePoint application and I need a couple of pieces of information to include." Business just cannot comprehend why it is so difficult. Then they discover a "back-door" way to get the data themselves via a Rube Goldberg contraption that downloads, puts it in a spreadsheet, tosses it around with formulas and macros, and "Voila! Voila!" there's a palatable concoction to feed their needs. And so is born Shadow IT. The good thing is that the business person stops asking for things, and the bad thing is the surge of new, secret tech debt lurking in every department, where you least expect it.

Apart from subscribing to special purpose SaaS applications, or buying an in-house piece of software, the majority of Shadow IT centers around data access and integration. With continuous increases in empowerment of non-IT employees with tools such as SharePoint and others, it behooves you to start looking at ways to control the spike in tech debt by incorporating an agile tool for integration. Lean Integration methodologies are sensible and may reduce the rate of accumulation of long term tech debt with regard to existing tech debt-ridden infrastructure. Adding an inherently lean Agile Integration Software to your mix means that you will not only be able to respond quickly to many of the backlogged requests, but do so with less specialized IT skills, and ultimately, if your stars are aligned, to turn around the trend of tech debt.