During the past few years, the financial-services industry invested significant resources in implementing enterprise application integration (EAI) technology solutions to foster real-time connectivity of applications and sharing of information among internal enterprise systems as well as with external partners' systems. Yet, this technology, even with the widespread adoption of eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and Web Services, is not the panacea for integration struggles.
Current EAI vendor offerings focus on two predominant concepts for integrating multiple application systems: data-driven integration and event-driven integration. Data-driven integration is based on techniques that make dispersed and typically heterogeneous classes of information available to multiple applications as though there were only one common data resource (i.e., data warehousing). Event-driven integration is based on techniques for sending information to and receiving information from applications, and interacting with software objects embedded in the application (e.g., messaging, remote procedure calls, interface definitions languages and models like DCOM or CORBA, etc.).
Although EAI solutions based on data-driven and/or event-driven techniques provide relatively comprehensive functionality, they miss one of the most critical elements of business-oriented integration: the actual integration of interactions between customers and enterprise application systems. The new emerging concept for integration, which I call "intelligent document-driven integration," or IDDI, is focusing on exactly that - automating the exchange of information with people and systems via intelligent, interactive documents. Not only does it have a real opportunity to become the vital medium for e-business functions by enabling faster and easier integration of enterprise business processes with customers, it also could aid with internal systems integration. In fact, IDDI creates new types of integration and business-process-management techniques from which many companies can benefit significantly.
In a nutshell, IDDI enables a seamless and managed transition between self-service and assisted-service. It provides a way for a self-service channel to ensure customers that they will be able to find answers to many common questions while they are reviewing or completing a document.
The metaphor that comes to mind is one of an intelligent assistant who looks over one's shoulder and answers questions one might have at a particular point in the workflow. The "document assistant" is capable of actively proposing reasonable suggestions and offering corresponding help for the task at hand. It provides a new level of interactivity with customers, beyond pushing static information out to customers, Web sites with rigid form-based pages, communications via e-mails or even instant messaging.
Nearly every financial services organization today requires such levels of integration. For example, customers actually could interact with their brokerage statements or product promotions and provide immediately addressable feedback that can lead to significant efficiencies. The same documents can be enriched with video and audio elements, calculators, advising tools and other customer experience-enhancing technologies. Most important, this type of integration can be achieved in a pragmatic, cost-effective way. There are several large-scale production implementations already.
So, What Is IDDI?
To put it simply, IDDI is a set of technologies that provides the ability for enterprises to publish well-formatted electronic documents (so-called "information containers") with which customers can interact, and that can interact with back-end company systems.
The main components of IDDI environments from a functional viewpoint are the following four technical services:
First, they offer a means for authoring intelligent documents. In particular, current IDDI technology erases the boundary between authoring tools for publishing documents in a standard format (most often, in the Adobe Acrobat PDF format) and tools that enable business rules or any other logical expressions to be applied to the standard document, including full validation and help fields. Hence, formatting templates with such authoring tools allows for the addition of comments and explanatory text to help the customer complete the document correctly or to find answers to a potential question. Moreover, it is possible to add movies, sound clips and interactive buttons to a document. These templates also have built-in integration with common office applications such as Microsoft Excel and other similar PC tools.
Created documents then can be published for use directly on the Web (via a browser) or for download/upload. When customers export the documents to Adobe PDF Reader, for example, they can view movies, play sound clips and interact with the documents using activation buttons. Depending on the business logic embedded into the form, certain fields can be pre-filled or explained, if needed. Also, entered data can be saved at any point during the process.
Second, IDDI environments offer technology for encapsulating documents in a way that makes interaction with core applications easy and automated. IDDI uses XML as a basis for capturing information within an interactive document. However, only the annotated document elements establish the link between descriptive text and real actions.
Third, IDDI environments employ a generalized integration engine (e.g., EAI messaging products, Java application servers like IBM WebSphere, portal servers, etc.) that enables functionality for secure and reliable exchange of information among enterprise systems and devices, such as exchanging documents directly via Web Services. Moreover, employing an integration engine that offers, for example, Java-based application programming interfaces (APIs) allows for the retrieval of information from the XML-encoded document. Thereby, IDDI combines the advantages of EAI-supported, messaging-based integration methods with knowledge-acquisition methods.
Finally, business documents come in many different forms: letters, product application forms, notifications, bills, statements, etc. These forms often come with particular semantics and styles that reflect a particular corporate identity. With IDDI, it is possible to go one step further, linking these forms not only with corporate identity styles, but also with the enterprise's content libraries. This makes IDDI documents available as an explicit knowledge repository.
Even I don't expect IDDI technologies to mature for years. However, investing in the right foundation for customer-focused integration is key. IDDI is a vision that requires a long-term view, and through a phased deployment, organizations can begin capturing returns today and lay the groundwork for sustained and profitable customer relationships in the future.
About The Author
Mark Davydov is an expert in advanced systems architecture and data management solutions, including EAI. He has planned and implemented enterprisewide systems-architecture initiatives for more than 30 Fortune 500 companies. Currently, he is a vice president and senior technology delivery architect at Bank of America, USA.
An Example of IDDI
An example of IDDI is an Adobe Systems' Intelligent Document Platform that leverages both XML and PDF, and that is integrated with IBM WebSphere to enable interactive PDF documents to "travel" securely from one company's system to a person or to another company to interoperate with its systems. Below are some of its features that offer a glimpse into the current IDDI technology trends.
- Allowing for additional information that helps users and systems interact with the document to be added to the document as it progresses downstream.
- Allowing for data extracted from multiple heterogeneous data sources to be transformed to a common format.
- Integrating with IBM DB2 Content Manager, which creates a single, unified environment for managing business content within IDDI documents.
- Enabling paper-based administrative workflows (e.g., HR employee evaluation processes) to be represented automatically as fully electronic processes.
- Enabling universal clients. Interaction with intelligent documents is supported from any device.
- Enabling universal access. Intelligent documents flow automatically - whether they arrive by fax, paper or the Web.