Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) can mean many things. Integrating various applications can be as simple—and "low-tech"—as direct interfaces between systems in your organization.
For example, you may create an interface feed between your Lawson payroll system and an external tax preparation service, or your "home-grown" billing system and the Lawson Accounts Receivable system. Interfaces can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including database-to-database triggers, COBOL extracts, etc.
Direct interfaces are typically characterized by two primary attributes: 1) direction (inbound or outbound, or two-way), and 2) their timeliness, i.e. batch (hourly, daily, monthly, etc.) or real-time (directly integrated).
Moving to the other end of the integration spectrum are "integration hubs", which truly "integrate" your organization’s systems and operations, and present a unified view of them.
For example, a company may have any number of customer-related systems (e.g., customer relationship management (CRM), call center, accounts receivable, billing, etc.) An Account Executive or a Billing Analyst should see these disparate customer systems as one—via one user interface—which sits atop an integration hub that synchronizes and "orchestrates" the flow of information between the systems.
EAI hubs are comprised of four key components:
- Orchestration: The engine that is responsible for making it all work; akin to the "routers" in a network, the "orchestration" engine is the heart of the hub, and knows which transformations and adapters are required for each and every transaction or request performed in the hub, and knowing which is the appropriate transport to use to handle the request.
- Transformation: Responsible for translation of the system-specific data into a common format. In other words, the call center application and the A/R system have specific formats for the customer data. The "Transformation" engine is responsible for "Transforming" this data from the various adapters into a usable and common format.
- Adapters: Components that pass data between the Transformation engine and the various disparate systems for updating and retrieval.
- Transport: Think of this as the "email" of EAI. The transport engine is responsible for the guaranteed delivery of data to/from the hub to/from the various adapters. As you probably know, there is no "out-of-the-box" EAI implementation (you may have enjoyed the current IBM commercials, touting the fictitious "Universal Business Adapter"!)
And, there is no one integration hub that can be used with Lawson. The Lawson Business Component Integrater (BCI) goes a long way to fulfilling the requirements of an EAI hub, but lacks both a reliable transport engine (typically, clients use either FTP, or IBM MQSeries messaging) and a true orchestrator. It does come bundled with the appropriate Lawson adapters, and Mercator for the transformation engine.
Another popular solution is Microsoft’s BizTalk Server, which meets most of the EAI requirements. However, BizTalk lacks knowledge of Lawson, and therefore requires custom-developed COM components to "talk" to the various Lawson systems, and fulfill the adapter and transformation requirements.