If your organization is like nearly every other one I've talked to in the past 20+ years, you have a spaghetti chart of integration connections between all the siloed applications that run your business. Your customer is fractured across five applications. Your fulfillment process is broken across eight applications. Just try to pull together the data necessary to tell how profitable one of your products is. Or, as you implement mobile, external APIs, custom B2B connections, and more, how will you provide consistent, coherent access to your transactions and data?

Making sense of all the mess has been an important priority for years. The question is "how?" Forrester's latest research finds that it's time for a new kind of integration strategy. We call it "Digital Business Design":
A business-centered approach to solution architecture, implementation, and integration that brings business and technology design together by placing design priority on user roles, business transactions, processes, canonical information, events, and other business aspects that embody a complete definition of a business. 
Here's what we mean:
  • Traditional EAI reinforces silos and slows business change. Starting in the mid 1990s, traditional enterprise application integration (EAI) established a frame of reference for integration: Leave all the silos alone, and design technical integration flows to push data around behind the scenes to keep it all in sync. All of your users will still use the native user interfaces (UIs) of your off-the-shelf and custom apps — and most users will have to switch between several UIs to get their work done. When your business changes, you have a mass or rewiring to do to realign all your one-off integration flows. This is a technology-centered approach to the problem and it is, shall we say, less than optimal in today's rapidly changing business world.
  • Business agility needs business building blocks. When your business changes, businesspeople think about it in terms of new and changed transactions, user roles, business data, processes, audit controls, analysis requirements, and the like. We call these "business building blocks," and the problem with traditional integration is that it centers instead on technical building blocks, leaving the implementation of your business broken across all your silos.
  • Digital business design sets a new mindset and design model for integration. There's a better way, but the problem is that the traditional EAI mindset is so deeply ingrained in industry discussions that few people can see the better way. Digital business design puts a business mindset front and center, establishing an integrated, holistic design model for your business building blocks and guiding your use of integration technologies to build them. By setting a new mindset, we aim to help people break free from the strictures of traditional integration and focus on their business.
Here's how it works:
The design model for digital business design began to emerge in the early 2000s when leading organizations took a business-centered view of SOA. These firms have had a major focus on SOA business services (i.e., "digital business" services), which are designed to deliver true business transactions and queries — like "submit order" — rather than merely shipping data between applications (that's what SOA application services do). In this, the key shift is that the business design conversation (i.e., "What is a 'submit order' transaction and how does it work?") and the technology design conversation (i.e., "How should we design the submitOrder service?") are the same conversation — it's the same design, viewed from two different perspectives. The same shift happens with business processes and BPM, with 360-degree customer views and data virtualization, and with other types of business building blocks and technologies.
When business design and technology design are simply two sides of the same conversation, your integration strategy centers on business building blocks and how to use a wide variety of integration technologies to create them. Because your software-based business building blocks change in the same ways that your business changes, they provide a foundation for business agility. You'll still use traditional integration, but rather than merely trying to reduce the pain of application and technology silos, your first focus will be on business design for excellent business outcomes and sustainable business agility.
It all builds on Forrester's vision for business capability architecture, and the first couple of Forrester reports on digital business design will be out soon. In the meantime, here are two closely related reports (Forrester access required):
Talk back to me: What are the core concepts on which your integration strategy is built?