Integration is just one of the skills needed

In modern enterprises, business solutions are built by agile teams. Agile teams are by design multi-disciplinary. The Product Owner is responsible for the product backlog and the team(s) build and implement the stuff needed. In these modern enterprises, the need for an innovation & differentiation layer on top of systems of record is an absolute necessity to enable shorter time-to-market of these solutions and, in some cases, digital transformation.

In the Microsoft world this innovation & differentiation layer is basically provided by Microsoft Azure and Office 365. The first one is needed for the (big) data, business intelligence, integration, process execution & monitoring and web & mobile UX capabilities, and the latter one for the collaboration and document handling capabilities. In Microsoft-centric application landscapes, Dynamics 365 will be the way to go for your systems of record for customer interaction (CRM) and resource planning (ERP). In the future, whenever you’re ready as an enterprise, the whole two-speed or bi-modal approach will be a thing of the past, and the cloud infrastructure will enable just one-speed IT; full speed! But that will still take several years before it has become a reality that most enterprises can deal with. Because it’s not only an IT thing, but more an organizational thing (how do you keep on adopting these agile solutions; won’t we become tech-fatigue?).

Many skills are needed in the agile teams we deploy today. And when scaling the teams, a layer on top of the teams is needed to manage the portfolio and program aspects in a better way. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is a good example (I personally have experience with; I’m a SAFe Agilist :-)). Quite some enterprises have implemented this, or an alternative to this like LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum). This also facilitates DevOps at a larger scale.

Even in agile environments, enterprise architecture is still needed 😉 He or she is responsible for the overall architecture of the solutions that get built. Business architecture, information architecture and technical architecture are all still very important things. It defines the frameworks within which the solutions should be built. The agile teams work within these frameworks.

We also more and more see that agile teams focus on certain business domains. And that common practice within microservices architecture is that we don’t try to build stuff that can be reused by other teams as well. Unless we have one or two specific teams working on re-usable, enterprise wide functionality. It’s all about business value first.

Is the integration competence center something that is helpful in such an environment? Well, the role of the ICC will change. The ICC (just like any other CC) will not be involved as a “sleeping policeman” (pun intended) anymore. The ICC will basically be part of the enterprise architecture role, focusing specifically on the frameworks (to which the agile teams should adhere; comply or explain) and the enterprise wide functionality. Everything else will be solved by the agile teams. For specific domains. That way we are way more flexible and we still build re-usable enterprise wide stuff where absolutely needed.

Do integration projects still exist in the future?

I think not, or only in a very limited number of cases. Integration is just part of business solutions and should also be treated like that. The API developer, the UX developer, the DBA, the security expert, etc. They’re all integration capable team members. The commodity integration needs can be fully handled by the agile teams like that. And for the integration specials, like re-usable building blocks and patterns or the more difficult one-offs, we just involve the ICC, which probably is a separate agile team in the larger organizations. Their domain is cross enterprise. But they will not be roadblocks anymore, that used to slow down business solution development.

Will this change the way system integrators work? Absolutely. The more we can do to deliver complete agile teams (including big data, UX and collaboration folks), the better we can serve our customers! To become agile too, and shorten their time-to-market and maybe even transform and redefine their business models. As an integration specialist or integration team alone, you can’t do that. The folks that understand and can implement the whole Microsoft platform to deliver real business solutions are going to be the ones that enterprises will turn to…

Cheers, Gijs

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