Agile EAI Methods Minimizing Risk_ Maximizing ROI

					              T        ECHNOLOGY
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                                         Agile EAI Methods:
                                   Minimizing Risk, Maximizing ROI
           Agile development methods have been shown to help companies realize business value
           early and often on software projects of all sizes. Today, practitioners of agile are quickly
        discovering that the approach is also well suited to enterprise application integration projects.
         By Bob Hunter, Director, Insurance Practice Group
         Martin Fowler, Chief Scientist, and
         Gregor Hohpe, Senior Architect
         ThoughtWorks, Inc.



         M
                    ore and more insurance companies are looking             EAI: More Ups than Downs
                    to Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) as a            In the most basic sense, EAI uses messaging (a method of
                    way to leverage existing IT assets to improve            moving information around) to allow existing systems and
         profitability and overall competitiveness. But many are             applications to exchange data with new applications.
         doing nothing more than looking because insurance IT                The big advantage of EAI is that it can save companies a great
         leaders recognize that EAI strategies involve a serious             deal of time and money by leveraging core IT assets. We’ll
         commitment of precious resources.                                   delve into the challenges associated with EAI a little later.
             And therein lies the root of the problem with most                 In the insurance industry, EAI has become increasingly
         enterprise-wide initiatives like EAI: How can companies             important. Today’s crucial business functionality is spread
         minimize risk and maximize ROI on large and highly complex          across a wide range of custom and packaged applications.
         IT projects? It’s a tough question that becomes even more           In addition, internal and external customers are increasingly
         difficult considering the fact that virtually any insurance         demanding a single, customer-centric view into the business—
         carrier’s IT environment is subject to frequent change. Not         which often challenges a company’s existing systems.
         only do IT leaders have to deliver solutions that provide              EAI strategies center on the selection and integration of
         improved time-to-market and profitability—they have to              software called “middleware.” EAI uses middleware to link
         do so in a way that simultaneously accounts for mergers             diverse systems through a common communications inter-
         and acquisitions, an ever-changing regulatory climate, and          face. This integration technique allows insurers to improve
         ongoing internal and external requests for new functionality.       customer service capabilities and more quickly capitalize
             Challenging? Yes. But very realistic, thanks to the recent      on new market opportunities.
         emergence of a set of practices that make the prospect                 One reason EAI is gaining in popularity is because it
         of tackling EAI initiatives more manageable. These                  extends the functionality of legacy systems without
         practices—known as agile development methods—have                   requiring the organization to replace existing systems or
         been shown to help companies realize business value early           retool major components. It’s also generating excitement
         and often on software projects of all sizes. Today, practitioners   because new business functionality can be added
         of agile are quickly discovering that the approach is also          directly into a middleware layer. That means business
         well suited to EAI projects.                                        processes can be automated without the need for major
             Here’s how an agile approach to an EAI strategy allows          overhauls of legacy systems.
         insurance carriers to pursue enterprise integration in a way           The real beauty of EAI is that existing systems can
         that harnesses the power of change, delivers end-user               continue to do what they do best. Yet at the same time, new
         satisfaction, and favorably impacts ROI.                            technology can be added to take the enterprise to the next

         32   July 2002 RESOURCE
level. What’s more, EAI vendors have
moved far beyond simple messaging so-
lutions. Some EAI tool suites, for
example, provide the ability to manage
workflow, manage documents and even
create portals. In addition, EAI solutions
now make it easier to adapt to standard
protocols, such as Extensible Markup
Language (XML) and Simple Object
Access Protocol (SOAP).
   Of course, EAI is not a technologi-
cal panacea. EAI implementations
tend to be very large initiatives that                     Bob Hunter                     Martin Fowler                            Gregor Hohpe
require the integration of a host of
applications and legacy systems across
multiple platforms. As such, it’s not
                                             approach (see Figure 1), the carrier                  “Big-Bang” Challenges
unusual for companies to spend hun-
                                             might spend more than five months in                      One of the main challenges with
dreds of thousands of dollars, if not
                                             the analysis and design stage. From                   the traditional, “big-bang” approach
millions, to implement an EAI
                                             there, the work to install new soft-                  is that it’s very difficult to determine
strategy. In addition, larger EAI
                                             ware, create a new Web-based front                    whether progress is being made
projects frequently take a year or more
                                             end, add adapters, and integrate the                  throughout the project, and more
to complete. All the while, EAI strate-
                                             system to communicate and work in                     importantly, whether or not things
gies involve infrastructure work that is
                                             concert with the legacy environment                   are going well. Of course, you will
virtually transparent to business users,
                                             occurs in the latter phases of the project.           have your answer when you flip the
making it easy for some business leaders
                                             The new system is then deployed at the                switch the end of those 13 months. But
to lose sight of the overall mission.
                                             end of the 13-month period.                           in an age when ROI is king, not many
                                                                                                   insurers can afford to wait a year or
Traditionally Speaking
                                                                                                   more to learn whether or not their
    The traditional approach in an EAI
                                                                                                   precious resources were put to good use.
implementation is to plan most, if not
all, of the process and business
requirements up front before the
integration work proceeds. This pre-
                                               E     AI extends the functionality of
                                                                                                       Another difficulty with big-bang
                                                                                                   approaches involves business customer
                                                                                                   and end-user satisfaction. On just about
dictive approach also tends to create
                                             legacy systems without requiring the                  any significant IT project, it’s a safe bet
                                                                                                   that new internal and external custom-
the mindset that it’s critical to stick to
the established plan at all costs as the
                                                organization to replace existing                   ers will emerge mid-project, demanding
                                                                                                   business functionality that could not
project moves forward.
    Predictive approaches grew out of
                                                         systems or retool major                   have been considered during the initial
                                                                                                   analysis and design phase. The risk
the need to bring order to the early
and often chaotic days of custom soft-
                                                components. It also allows new                     is that the 13-month EAI project as
                                                                                                   designed might not fit the needs of
ware development. Today, predictive
methods continue to have a place,
                                              business functionality to be added                   the organization and users six
                                                                                                   months or more down the road.
which is usually when technical and
user requirements remain fairly static.
                                                directly into a middleware layer.                      There’s also a tendency to over-
                                                        ...........................                engineer IT infrastructures up front
However, business and technology is
                                                                                                   because people tend to think of all of
rarely, if ever, static. That’s especially
                                                                                                   the things they might need to do with
the case in the insurance industry,
                                                                                                   the new technology at some future
where constant change is driven by some
                                                There’s no question that a tradi-                  date. The result is an overly compli-
of the factors referenced earlier (ever-
                                             tional approach to implementing this                  cated infrastructure that could very
changing regulations, mergers and
                                             theoretical CRM solution can and does                 well be out of sync with the actual
acquisitions, etc.). Additionally, the
                                             work. However, it can lead to serious                 needs of the applications to be added.
pace of change has increased dramati-
                                             headaches—not to mention budget                           Finally, EAI is often designed to
cally, and the ability to leverage
                                             overruns and lost opportunities.                      radically transform an enterprise for
technology to secure a strategic
advantage is paramount. These points
are especially worth noting when             Figure 1                                                     Traditional Development Approach
tackling complex EAI projects.               Month
    Let’s say, for example, that a large         1         2       3    4         5   6        7          8    9          10       11       12         13
carrier with multiple billing and policy
                                                                                                                                         System
administration systems uses an EAI                      Analysis            Design            Code                 Test                  Deployed
strategy to implement a packaged
                                                                                          [    Software Development            ]         Working
CRM solution. Let’s also say the                                                                                                         Software
project is estimated to take 13 months                                                                                                   Delivered

to complete. Using the traditional

                                                                                                                                        www.loma.org        33
 Figure 2
                                                                                                                                   Agile Development Approach
          Month

               1           2           3          4           5          6             7            8              9          10         11        12       13

            Increment 1                                                                      Increment 3
                               Increment 2
                                                                                   Iteration 1   Iteration 2   Iteration 3
                                             Increment 3
                                                           Increment 4       UAT   Release #1
                                                                             Increment 5
     Each Iteration Includes:                                                                Increment 6
     1)     Analysis                                                                                            Increment 7     UAT   Release #2
     2)     Design
     3)     Code
     4)     Test
     5)     Delivery of working software



the better. However, any radical                           user partnering, and rigorous and                             Plus, the concept allows the infra-
transformation that occurs at the flip                     frequent testing.                                             structure and the applications to
of a switch can have an unexpected                             When compared with traditional                            evolve together so that the architec-
impact on an organization if not                           methods, it’s safe to say that agile                          ture is aligned more closely with the
thoroughly tested, such as the intro-                      takes the planning process to a higher,                       needs of the enterprise.
duction of an automated process                            more flexible level. With Agile EAI,
that leads to added costs rather than                      business and user requirements are                            Connecting Business and
savings. For example, automating tasks                     broken down into small increments                             Technical Functions
in one area of the business might                          that can be developed in short periods                           Agile EAI also stresses close part-
increase transactions in a separate part                   of time (or iterations). This iterative                       nerships with business leaders and end
of the system. As such, it could                           approach allows planners to estimate                          users throughout the project. Essen-
inadvertently extend the nightly cycle                     the amount of time and effort required                        tially, agile says it’s not a good idea for
and throw it off schedule.                                 to successfully complete each segment                         business people to come up with a list
   But none of this takes away from                        of a project.                                                 of requirements and go away for
the fact that EAI can prove to be an                           Earlier, we looked at how a tradi-                        months or even years. Instead, close
enterprise-transforming initiative that                    tional approach to EAI would have a                           collaboration allows for short and
delivers true business value. All that’s                   company tackle a 13-month EAI                                 rapid feedback cycles. In turn, course
needed is a smart way to get it done,                      project. If the same project were tackled                     corrections can be made based on
which is why it makes good business                        using Agile EAI, development teams                            inevitably new requirements.
sense to borrow a few pages from the                       would do a complete cycle of the process                         Once again, the process enables
agile approach to software development.                    in increments. Each cycle includes                            business leaders and the development
                                                           analysis, design, code, and testing (see                      team to go back to the original
Agile and EAI Go Together                                  Figure 2). Bits of working software are                       plan and determine the conse -
   Interest in and the use of agile meth-                  then released in a controlled setting                         quences of any particular change
ods has increased dramatically in recent                   before the full system is deployed.                           derived from new requirements.
years. Today, more global leaders than                         The key benefit to this approach is                       From there, a collective decision
ever in a variety of industries are using                  visibility. By moving forward incre-                          can be reached about whether to
it to move forward intelligently and                       mentally, decision-makers can                                 make any changes. The result is that
effectively on complex IT initiatives.                     determine whether progress is                                 both the enterprise and users get
(They’re also achieving impressive                         actually being made. If, for example,                         what is needed—rather than what
results, but that’s another story.)                        specific functionality cannot be com-                         was originally wanted. At the same
   The term “agile” actually describes                     pleted within the second or third                             time, the rapid feedback cycle
a number of software development                           month, it’s a very good sign that                             ensures the project is not overbuilt.
methodologies. These include Extreme                       schedules were overly optimistic. But                         In other words, change works in favor
Programming (XP), SCRUM, Crystal,                          rather than struggling for a way out of                       of the organization, not against it.
and others. The methodologies share                        the situation, the Agile EAI approach                            Meanwhile, the ability to deliver
common characteristics that lend                           anticipates change and enables plans                          rapid iterations without introducing
themselves to an “agile” process (i.e.,                    to be modified.                                               defects dictates the need for rigorous
lightweight, easy to adapt). While                             Along these same lines, ease of                           and frequent testing. To do so, Agile
based on highly disciplined processes,                     design supports iterative development.                        EAI techniques often involve a
agile methods are inherently adaptive                      Rather than creating a complete                               continuous integration process that
(vs. predictive). This enables devel-                      infrastructure at the beginning of a                          incorporates automated testing suites.
opment teams to embrace changing                           project, focusing on small, incremen-                         The suites execute all unit and accep-
business and end-user requirements.                        tal deliveries early, including limited                       tance tests multiple times a day in an
Aside from this basic premise, agile                       business functions, allows the system to                      automated fashion, making regression
practices that contribute to the suc-                      be tested throughout the development                          testing fully automated.
cess of EAI initiatives include iterative                  cycle. Additionally, the infrastructure                          Testing means that IT teams have a
development, ease of design, business/                     can be refined while it is still practical.                   very good chance of detecting and

34    July 2002 RESOURCE
fixing mistakes that are inadvert-                       expertise, along with deep insurance
ently injected into the code base.                       domain experience, can help address         About the Authors:
Of course, correcting mistakes on                        the need to:                                     Bob Hunter leads ThoughtWorks’
                                                                                                     Insurance Practice. Before joining
an evolving infrastructure is a                              n Clearly define common business
                                                                                                     ThoughtWorks in 2000, Hunter
challenge. With Agile EAI, how-                          objects                                     served as a director for Cap Gemini
ever, any mistakes are diagnosed                             n Semantically and structurally         Ernst & Young U.S.’s Insurance Glo-
and corrected much earlier in the                        map metadata                                bal Market Unit. Before CGE&Y,
process—often the same day—                                  n Implement custom adapters             Hunter served in IT leadership roles
thereby minimizing the chances that                          n Develop solutions that bridge
                                                                                                     at Great American Life Insurance, Pro-
                                                                                                     gressive Insurance, and Continuum
costly errors will go undetected.                        multiple EAI vendors’ tools                 Systems, Inc.
   The long and short of it is that                          Agile EAI can be a powerful ingre-           ThoughtWorks Chief Scientist
Agile EAI prevents many of the break-                    dient in a successful enterprise            Martin Fowler is a leading authority
downs that are common to EAI                             integration strategy. The method of-        on Agile Methods such as Extreme
projects that use a traditional, predic-                 fers leading insurance companies the        Programming. He has been a
tive approach. Ultimately, Agile EAI                     chance to improve specific processes        featured speaker at dozens of
                                                                                                     software development conferences
blends discipline with adaptability,                     incrementally, and thereby, more            and seminars worldwide and is
thereby enabling companies to reduce                     rapidly realize significant business        particularly known for his work in
risk and deliver ROI sooner on major                     value. It also lays the foundation for      patterns, UML, agile methodologies,
integration projects.                                    additional systems to be rapidly in-        and refactoring. He has written
                                                         tegrated in the future—even as              f o u r b o o k s : Analysis Patterns,
Making a Good Thing Better                               business and customer requirements          Refactoring, UML Distilled, and
     The importance of a well-defined                    change, new front-office applications       Planning Extreme Programming.
                                                                                                          Gregor Hohpe, a senior architect
ente r p r i s e i n t e g r a t i o n s t r a t e g y   are added, new businesses are               with ThoughtWorks, has helped a
and the right selection of EAI tool                      formed or acquired, new relation-           variety of Global 1000 companies
sets cannot be overstated. The best                      s h i p s a r e f o r g e d with external   deploy enterprise integration
bet is to define an initial strategy                     partners, and new products and              solutions. Hohpe has also authored
that incorporates steps from                             services introduced.                        a number of articles and papers on
vendor selection all the way through                         As effective as EAI can be, taking      application development and
                                                                                                     systems integration, and frequently
s o l u t i o n d e p l o y m e n t . Ta p p i n g       an agile approach to its delivery makes     speaks at technical conferences.
into outside systems integration                         a good thing even better. ❑




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