The Integration Business Case, continued

Nick responds to my visceral thoughts on the integration business case. There’s no point in excerpting it – go read the whole thing. I’ll wait.

It looks like for case #2, he added the ability to “change readily and inexpensively”, which is to say he made it overlap even further with #4 than it used to. He also changed #3 to make it clear that he was collecting metrics to give us “awareness of process efficiency”. That makes #3 overlap with #4 on efficiency instead of #1 on BI, but either way it’s still redundant.

So we’re still left with the business cases of Business Intelligence, Efficiency and Agility. Nick conflates Efficiency and Agility both in his original post and his follow-up, but I think it makes sense to separate them. I still stand by my original point that the business is only interested in directly funding Business Intelligence.

Nick is willing to bet a nice lunch that MSFT has invested more in improving operational efficiency that we have on BI in the past four years. He’s probably right, but he missed the point I was making. The business will readily invest in improving a specific process they can measure the ROI on improving. MSFT has lots of processes, I’m sure most of them have significant room for improvement.

But Nick’s list isn’t about specific improvements. He’s explicitly wrote that he’s describing a scenario where “our systems are all optimally integrated”. Selling the business on generally improving efficiency is very different that selling the business on improving the efficiency of a specific process. I’d bet the same nice lunch that the vast majority – if not all – of integration infrastructure running at MSFT was originally deployed as part of a specific business scenario that needed to be solved.

My point here is most businesses are better at funding projects to meet specific business needs than it is at funding pure infrastructure projects.

As for agility. Martin Fowler pointed out once that adding flexibility means adding complexity. But chances are, you’ll be wrong about the flexibility you think you’ll need. So you actually end up with the additional complexity but none of the flexibility benefit. Martin recommends “since most of the time we get it wrong, just don’t put the flexibility in there”. Instead, you should strive for simplicity, since simpler systems are easier to understand and thus easier to change.

Does the same philosophy apply to process? I think so, though there is one thing I’d be willing to risk being wrong on. We all expect the steps in a process to change over time, so moving to a declarative model for process definition sounds like a good idea. Luckily, there’s existing platform infrastructure that helps you out here. But beyond that, I can’t think of a flexibility requirement that I’m so sure of that I’m willing to take on the additional complexity.

Again, I’m not saying efficiency or agility (or integration for that matter) are bad things. I’m saying they’re a tough sell to the business in the absence of specific scenarios. Selling the business on automating the ordering processing is feasible. Selling the business on building out integration infrastructure because some future project will leverage it is much tougher. If you can sell them on it, either because the company is particularly forward thinking or because you can sell ice to Eskimos, then more power to you. But for the rest of us, better to focus on specific scenarios that the business will value and keep the integration details under wraps.