Sunday, December 9, 2012

Running an Integration Competence Center for small businesses

A while ago I saw a post from an old colleague on LinkedIn where he linked to an old article called Too small for an Integration Competency Center? Think again. I was intrigued to read the article since I am in the middle of establishing an ICC at the organization I'm at, and we are quite small in that regard.

The four building blocks involved are:
  • Adopt common integration practices
  • Standardize on a common integration platform
  • Create a decentralized group that specializes in integration
  • Form a centralized ICC
This has all been done at the organization I am at, with the experience I have from larger organization as a basis for the setup. In my case, with an IT department of a whopping four people, forming an ICC is no big challenge in that regard.

I have opted to include external parties in the ICC to form a team that is not bound to a strict organizational hierarchy, but rather be agile and flexible to the demands from the organization at stake.

The basis of the ICC is in my role as integration architect/supervisor in the IT department. Coupled to this I have included an external integration architect to have a form of sounding board. Most, if not all, integration development work is carried out by consultants which the external integration architect is responsible to coordinate. As needed, I also include internal resources in the ICC to help forming the ICC and drive the integration development forward. So basically, the ICC is in it's simple form just two persons, with several others coming and going as needed.

So far, this is working very well. The agility in the ICC is a strong factor to consider. A lot of times, people are included full time even if they are not needed full time. Since the external architect is contracted on an as-needed-basis, costs can be brought down. Of course, that puts a lot of burden on me.

However, I have strived to create a simple and effective process of the entire integration life cycle. Document templates are available for everything from requesting an integration (done by the organization) to detailed specification and testing of the completed development. The development guidelines and deliverance specifications are to be as standardized as possible to not bind anything to a single person or organization (except our own). I aim to be able to both replace the consultants involved as well as myself without having to explain anything about the setup and behavior of the ICC and involved parts.

As for the four building blocks above, I feel that all (almost) of them can be ticked off in our case. The platform is BizTalk, best practices are established through documentation and processes based on experience from me and consultants, a decentralized group is formed and the ICC is formed and handling most of the integration needs. What is left is the funding that is still divided and handled by separate organizational units rather than taken care of completely by a central organization. This is currently the biggest issue to handle since it hamper a true value-for-money path regarding integration.

But to summarize, in accordance to the article linked in the beginning of this post, you cannot have a too small of an organization for an ICC to be formed. By including resources on a need-to basis as well as including external consultants where needed, it can be handled in a very effective way. The important part is to have a clear process of the entire life cycle as well as clear boundaries between different parties involved. My role in the whole ICC is most importantly to coordinate the different tasks between the resources, and as long as that is done appropriately, everything is flowing smoothly. Having a centralized funding of the work is not necessary, but very (very!) preferable.

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