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GCN : March 2014
GOVERNMENT IT managers are forced to strike a balance between a rapidly evolving technology landscape and the imperative to wring every last drop of value from previ- ous investments. Often that means integrating new tech- nology into legacy systems. Making otherwise incom- patible technologies play nice isn t easy. The slightest change, such as the introduc- tion of a new application or the migration to a new op- erating system, could upset everything. Imagine having to rewrite desktop software because of a Windows upgrade. Or having the o ce s version of SAS unable to work with the latest version of Excel. These are examples of component integration challenges -- mak- ing multiple software com- ponents and/or commercial- o -the-shelf products work together. I won t pretend to have all the answers since component integration challenges are so diverse, but here are six sug- gestions: 1. Prefer browser appli- cations to desktop applica- tions. The once-superior fea- ture set of desktop solutions was worth the configuration management and installation nightmares, but no longer. Note that browser applica- tions aren t necessarily Web applications. For example, developers can write apps in Google Dart in that function as desktop apps living in Chrome. For those who insist on traditional desktop apps, choose operating-system agnostic technologies like JavaFX or Java Swing. 2. Consider virtualiza- tion and/or the cloud. If components can be success- fully integrated in a vir- tual machine, changes to the standard o ce configuration and things like security scans become irrelevant. Just work in the VM. You can even run your VM in the cloud against data stored securely with the government flavor of Amazon Web Services. 3. Opt for open source. Vendors have every right to maximize profits, but this often comes at the expense of easy integration as they seek to lock customers in to their stack. Open-source tools not only reduce cost, but they are usually built with integration in mind. 4. Use Kanban. Agile development is no monolith. Although I prefer Scrum for application development, I prefer an agile approach called Kanban for component integration. Kanban can be overlaid on an existing pro- cess to accelerate integration. Results are apparent in days or weeks rather than months. 5. Share knowledge. Rather than concentrate knowledge in one person, demand that several people on the team know how everything works. Whether through brown bag lunches or mandatory training ses- sions, make this a priority. 6. Automate pipelines leveraging common for- mats. Pipelines exporting data from one component to the next via intermediate for- mats can improve e ciency significantly. This demands using data formats most tools understand like CSV, JSON, or XML. Write scripts to auto- mate these pipelines. These solutions demand investment, but so do current integration e orts. Con- sider these suggestions to maximize the return on your investment. • --- Neil A. Chaudhuri is founder and president of Vidya, and has over a decade of experience building complex software projects for commercial and government clients. IT INTEGRATION IS HARD. HERE ARE 6 WAYS TO AVOID THE HEADACHE AND LIFT YOUR ROI. INDUSTRY INSIGHT BY NEIL CHAUDHURI GCN MARCH 2014 • GCN.COM 15 HEALTHCARE.GOV, JUST ANOTHER GOVERNMENT INTEGRATION CHALLENGE There is no more famous example of an architectural integration challenge than HealthCare.gov. Though they may not get as much press, there are many such large- scale architectures of similar complexity in government. Again, I won't pretend to have all the answers, but I will offer one broad suggestion for your consideration: Use enterprise integration patterns. The canonical text on the subject of the same name is meant primarily for developers, but the basis is straightforward: Ensure applications in the architecture know nothing about each other. One pattern for achieving this integration nirvana is the message bus, a software component all applications communicate with. Applications send data in a canonical data format only to the bus. The bus can then modify messages as needed -- transformed, split, aggregated, etc. --before delivering them to other applications. Producers of messages are completely decoupled from consumers of messages, so applications can be added or removed without disturbing the rest of the architecture. The need to integrate disparate components and applications will continue to be a necessity in government IT. Taking thoughtful steps will ensure investments yield the greatest value possible. -- Neil Chaudhuri