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Are information systems ready to survive in business ecosystems without integration?

What would you say if your business application would grow with the ambitions of your company without recurring heavy upgrades?

What would you say if your business application is compiled from best-in-class functionality that can be revised / replaced at any time?

What about modularization of features in the world of business information systems? And can we configure applications with best-in-class functionality?

In some industries, we see that manufacturers embraced ‘Mass Customization’ (consumer markets) and ‘Smart Customization’ (business to business markets). Standardization and modularization makes it possible to fully tailor products to the individual needs of companies or users (individualization -personalization) and yet affordable. With a modular design we can offer a larger variation using as many standard components without the need for customer specific customization.

By the far-reaching standardization manufacturers can focus more on what they see as their core activities: engineering, sales and assembly. The fabrication of parts is done completely by third parties totally product/brand-independent and components of different manufacturers are interchangeable.

Products are no longer sold from stock but composed according to customer requirement using (online) Product Configurators. These help clients making choices when configuring the desired end product and ensure that bills of material and routings are generated that seamlessly connect to the material and production planning.

Important: Customers must make their own choices and therefore know what they want.

Around 2006-2007 I had some hope that the OASIS Web Services Composite Application Framework (WS-CAF) would ensure the breakthrough of application-configuration-platforms. Microsoft, SAP, Cordys (Open Text) and others brought their Composite Application Framework on the market. Unfortunately in many cases remained limited to the functionalities or applications within the own product portfolio or suite.

Despite the fact that many functionalities nowadays can be unlocked via web-services it is still a step too far to put together a complete working hybrid application from functionalities of different vendors. We are still far from what is possible with 'Mass & Smart Customization'.

Can functionalities be created more intelligently so that extension is possible without impact on the existing - the operating environment?

In different industries (cars, smartphones, ...) we see more and more products that consist of intelligent software components which make products smarter, more flexible and more durable. Regularly new software versions are rolled out without the product going back to the manufacturer or service organization.

Are future business applications ready for rolling out such intelligent features? If you look at the layered structure of current web-oriented applications: persistence layer, application layer, presentation layer (user interface), execution layer (process engine), services layer then there are a number of positive developments.

Some solution providers have layers that can be independently adjusted without affecting the operation of the application.

- The Process Engine of Business Process Management systems ensures the execution (runtime) of process models. The functionality of the Process Engine can be extended with new features without affecting the process models.

- In some application development environments the User Interface Layer is separated from the Application Layer to meet the growing demand for device independent applications. For each device there is a different User Interface that works with the same application models.

The decoupling between process models and Process Engines and between application models and User Interfaces are developments of the last years. Many of us know the decoupling between the Domain Model the application software works with and the Data model of the database where the data is stored.

Does this answers the questions? Only in part.

It makes clear that we are not yet so far to compose best-in-class functionalities into a working application. The frameworks that can make it possible are still too much focused on their own domain.

It is not yet possible to stretch the life of your current business applications without your users knowing it. This has mainly to do with the lack of modern service-oriented technologies/platforms that deliver model-interoperability and exchangeability out-of-the-box and float on the power of integration.

But we are well on the way - we can develop solutions faster (read: modeling). Integration is increasingly seen as an enabler = an indispensable part needed to bring Cloud and On Premise services together.

In my future standard business applications are fused into process-driven and data-conscious business ecosystems that exist through the power of integration. They are ecosystems that independently are capable to use the best available functionalities at any time.

Tags: Interoperability-Frameworks, service-oriented technologies

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