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Business Management Systems: The Integration Pitfall

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The term "business management system" (BMS) is fast becoming the latest term for automated software systems that integrate into a comprehensive financial and business planning solution for medium-sized businesses. The term has been bandied about for a number of years by academics but is now just beginning—because of the integration capabilities of newer technologies and programming languages—to gain acceptance within the larger business community.

What Is BMS?

BMS is what the System i has always been about: managing the business through information technology. It can include any number of software suites and IT initiatives, including customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), payroll, financial accounting, supply chain, employee benefits systems, etc. The primary BMS motivator within an organization that has embraced BMS is the desire to bring the automation tools for managing the business into an environment that enables better control of the business itself. But that's only the first level of the definition. BMS must go deeper, within and without the organization, to reach management's goals.

Software Technology Integration Is Key

Almost without saying, the key to the success of any BMS suite is its ability to integrate various technology pieces into a cohesive solution suite. But what does real integration look like?

The last thirty years of business software evolution has been a story of integrating individual business software elements into larger, more comprehensive solutions.

A primary example of this can be found in the area of production management in the manufacturing sector:

  • Software for inventory control was combined with production control software to create material resource planning (MRP) suites.
  • MRP was further consolidated with specific accounting suites to become the second generation of MRP, called MRPII.
  • Further consolidation of software suites with financial accounting (accounts receivable, accounts payable, and general ledger) rolled together with MRPII suites to create enterprise resource planning (ERP).

In each consolidation, the goal was to create forward-planning tools based upon a real picture of what was currently occurring within the organization.

Likewise, supply chain management (SCM) extended these abilities for production and distribution planning between organizations. In a global sense, supply chain organizations relate to one another by their business planning relationships. So as they increasingly share production and inventory information, they increase the overall efficiency of the supply chain.

However, usually in small and medium business (SMB) environments, it's the larger member of the supply chain that sets up the technical requirements for the smaller business entities.

For instance, a mega-organization like Wal-Mart dictates the SCM software requirements to its suppliers, regardless of the actual internal business management systems that the smaller organization uses to manufacture the product. Wal-Mart doesn't care what it takes to produce the actual product, as long as the supplier provides the information Wal-Mart needs to plan and execute its business processes.

BMS: The Heart of the SMB

For this reason, BMS software is often seen as the internal glue that generates the local, internal, or in-house business processes of medium-sized organizations. This information later becomes the information base sent to the larger global suppliers and customers.

In other words, BMS suites are the tools by which medium-sized organizations conduct their internal business processes to create and manage products. Parts of that information created by these BMS suites are then sent outward to meet the demands of the global business partners. BMS tools often include ERP, CRM, financial accounting, and very specific internal software tools that help the organization create its products and services.

So, BMS is a set of solutions—often composed of integrated packages—that controls the internal business environment of an organization. However, the greatest challenge—and the greatest potential pitfall—is often how the particular BMS suite integrates to the larger global software world of SCM.

Evolution vs. Convolution: The IT Pitfall

Technologies are changing rapidly, and business requirements—both internal and global—make implementing BMS an exceedingly difficult chore for IT: No sooner has the integration between two software elements been completed than four more need to be modified to keep their functionality current.

Moreover, very often the requirement to integrate an element is initiated by the external supply chain or a key business partner. As in the Wal-Mart example, external customers often need to see production status, inventory, etc., and they require this information to be made available on demand.

This external dynamic invariably places the IT department into a reactive mode, trying to satisfy the external requirements of a business partner. But of more significant consequence is how such an external dynamic eliminates IT's ability to prioritize the implementation software projects in-house.

For instance, IT often must dedicate a programmer to perform some painstaking task of maintenance on a legacy BMS software module in order to respond to a business partner's initiative. This task must be performed to protect the business partner relationship, even though—in the larger scheme of things—the most logical thing to do would be to replace the BMS software module entirely. Yet, because of time constraints, maintaining the legacy BMS code may be the right business decision for the company to undertake. Consequently, the integration requirements for the BMS module—requirements that are originating outside the organization—create a corrosive dynamic that makes it more and more difficult for IT to move the whole organization forward.

Unless the BMS software module is exceedingly resilient and robust, each maintenance chore twists and torques the module, making it increasingly difficult to maintain in the future. Finally, as the modules reach their ultimate convolution, IT ends up with a piece of legacy code that is so distorted—often written in obsolete languages, using arcane APIs—that IT finds itself in a crisis: No one understands the business rules, no one remembers the API, no one knows the legacy language, and no one can find a consultant who will can help the organization modernize.

Multiply this dynamic by the number of interfaces that a BMS solution might have to other systems and processes—to both internal company applications and external business partner applications—and it becomes easy to see the resulting resource challenges:

  • Each BMS integration success will ultimately become an IT maintenance issue.
  • Each new maintenance issue will ultimately become an IT liability.
  • Each IT liability reduces the module's return on investment (ROI) and the value of the BMS software itself.

Techniques for BMS Integration

Of course, IT has historically used a number of techniques to optimize the ROI of BMS solutions, and it's interesting that most of these techniques mirror the evolution of the technology that IT has implemented. These techniques involve architecture, protocols, languages, and standards.

The Integrated BMS Platform

For instance, the hallmark of the System i (and its predecessor platforms) has always been its ability to integrate BMS solutions onto a single platform, using a single database technology (DB2), accessible by a robust high-level programming language (RPG).

Today, the System i is still the measure by which medium-sized businesses gauge the ROI success of their BMS software. Moreover, IBM has maintained the resiliency of the architecture of the System i and its operating system primarily by enabling new versions of the platform to continue to run older applications. IBM has also rigorously extended the platform's technology since the initial AS/400 days so that it can easily integrate with other operating system platforms and communications technologies.

But the days when a company could rely upon a single, integrated computing platform to meet its BMS requirements are long gone: Windows, Linux, mainframe, and a host of sundry workstation-based applications have long since wooed management away from the nirvana of a single platform solution. Today, it's unusual to find a medium-sized organization that runs its business entirely on a System i, and as a consequence, the pitfalls of BMS integration become a significant part of IT tasks.

Operating System APIs and Protocols

A second method for integrating BMS systems occurs between modules that exist on separate platforms, using APIs and communications protocols. For instance, several modules may exist on a Windows server, while another might exist on a UNIX server, all integrated via APIs and communications protocols to a central System i database. Communications protocols enable the different operating systems to interact, while the APIs enable the applications to exchange specific information between modules.

Unfortunately, as each platform architecture evolves, the underlying interfaces must be revisited. Moreover, if the support for any API changes or the integration requirements evolve, IT must get down and dirty to re-engineer how the applications communicate between themselves.

Until recently, this was the IT nightmare that eroded the department's credibility with management. Things take too long to integrate and, once integrated, take too long to maintain. From management's perspective, things work fine for a while and then suddenly break for no apparent reason. Finding the IT resources to support the BMS integration ultimately becomes a technical problem that has nothing to do with the business itself, further isolating IT from management.

Standards-Based Languages, Interfaces, and Protocols

The current "holy grail" for IT has been arriving with the evolution of standards-based languages, interfaces, and protocols. But these kinds of initiatives are not new. Ancient languages such as COBOL, modern languages such as Java, broad industry-based interfaces such as EDI, and modern interface services like RPC, Web services, and quasi-languages like XML are all of the same ilk: They promise an easier means of integrating software modules into a cohesive suite of solutions.

However, while these technologies may solve individual BMS integration problems, the technological trends that drive them tend to evolve faster than the skill levels within IT.

Older programmers will remember the promises that IBM and others made about the efficiency of object-oriented programming (OOP) languages like Smalltalk and Java. Today, these same programmers will be the first to tell you that things have become more complex, instead of less complex.

In the meantime, the discipline of OOP has moved these same programmers further away from the business rules they are trying to integrate in their BMS solutions. Instead of automating the company's business rules, they find they are submerged in technical standards-based programming details.

Moreover, an increasing number of rapidly evolving technology standards enter the world of IT every day. This makes the choice of any particular standard increasingly difficult for IT. Which language should IT use? Which protocol offers the most power to the organization? What standard will be tomorrow's standard? These are hotly debated topics within IT, but they have nothing to do with business rules or the management requirements of a BMS solution.

Add to this the fact that often these languages, standards, and protocols are ultimately chosen by business partners within the supply chain—rather than by IT itself—and the stage is set for confusion and inefficiency.

BMS Integration Brokers

The solution to this BMS integration nightmare may be found in a new class of software called integration brokers. An integration broker is a centralized software suite that acts as a hub to orchestrate the interfaces of all the software used by the BMS solution.

Instead of writing to individual APIs between applications, the integration broker is the central repository for all underlying processes that communicate at the application layer.

For instance, an application that needs to create EDI transactions can use an integration broker to coordinate communications to the business partner who accepts a particular flavor of EDI, while the same application interface to the integration broker can redirect transactions to a different business partner who uses Web services.

Meanwhile, the integration broker centralizes and standardizes all internal BMS module interfaces. It's architected to robustly communicate between external and internal processes. Instead of requiring IT to learn a thousand different interfaces, IT needs only to know the integration broker's interface.

Real-World Integration Using Integration Brokers

Recently, MC Press Online hosted a Webcast entitled "Business as Usual: Is it Stopping Supply Chain Success?" In the Webcast, MC Press interviewed Jim F. O'Leary of Extol International. We asked O'Leary how the traditional modes of IT integration within a BMS solution can be overhauled to increase efficiency within a supply chain structure.

O'Leary provided three examples from three companies in different supply chains that are currently using integration broker technology to achieve increased IT productivity. What's most instructive about this Webcast is the description of the software architecture that enables almost any BMS suite to extend beyond the organization, out into the larger global supply chain architecture.

Moreover, O'Leary provided interesting hints on how an organization that's backlogged with maintenance problems can begin the transition to a more structured, controlled, and productive IT environment.

If you're interested in this topic, I recommend that you visit this free Webcast for an excellent view into what IT can accomplish with BMS integration and how these integration processes can be improved.

BMS at the Threshold of Business Productivity

For too long, business management systems have been the stepchildren of the IT technology revolution. Excellent applications have been created and then abandoned or ignored by companies as IT has sought the holy grail of a fully integrated business management system. Technologies have come and gone; standards have been embraced and deserted. Yet management steps up to the plate to invest again and again because implementing a robust BMS solution is so vital to the profitability of the organization.

Yet the pitfalls of BMS will be found not in this vision from IT or its management but in the overall complexity that comes from integrating the various BMS solution modules. To overcome these pitfalls, IT has to look beyond the traditional modes of software integration and examine the overall architecture that composes its suite of solutions. Once this architecture is examined, new opportunities—using new architectural concepts like integration brokers—will enable IT to finally move beyond the BMS integration nightmare.

Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press Online, LP.

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is an independent IT analyst and writer. He is the former Editor in Chief of MC Press Online and Midrange Computing magazine and has over 20 years of experience as a programmer, systems engineer, IT director, industry analyst, author, speaker, consultant, and editor.  

 

Tom works from his home in the Napa Valley in California. He can be reached at ITincendiary.com.

 

 

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    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.