One month ago, Oracle President Charles Phillips dedicated most of his keynote speech at the Collaborate conference to announcing a new technology initiative: Oracle Application Integration Architecture (AIA). When an Oracle president kicks off a conference in this way, it must mean that AIA is a big deal. Knowing this, we have been on a quest on your behalf to figure out exactly what AIA is all about and whether it is of any great consequence to the JD Edwards community.

The bottom line is that AIA is important. However, its near term relevance to you depends on the size and complexity of your application environment. For the roughly 200 top-end JD Edwards customers, AIA is definitely something that needs to be understood soon. Everyone else will be impacted by AIA in the fullness of time, but need not be highly concerned at this moment.

Phillips’ speech presented a compelling vision about a new approach to application integration, but it left us hungry for details. A webcast on May 9 hosted by Fred Studer, VP of Applications and Industry Marketing, provided more information, but still not enough for us to understand fully. A recent private interview with Jose Lazares, VP of Adaptive Business Solutions, finally put us in a position to comment intelligently on the impact of AIA on JD Edwards customers.

The problem that AIA sets out to solve is straightforward. Most IT environments, especially within larger organizations, consist of a variety of applications from a mix of vendors, not to mention custom–made software. It is increasingly necessary to automate business processes that cross the boundaries between these applications. However, creating solutions that obtain data and use the logic of multiple divergent applications tends to be time consuming and complex. Application Integration Architecture (AIA) is Oracle’s proposed approach to reducing the cost and complexity of doing so.

For Oracle, the urgent need to integrate divergent applications is a bit of a self-inflicted wound. Oracle’s product portfolio is a dog’s breakfast of almost 30 application families put together via acquisition. Each of them uses its own unique approach to development. Eventually, Oracle will replace all of them with its next-generation Fusion Applications, but it will take a decade or more for all of these pigs that were swallowed to pass through the proverbial python. In the meantime, those who own multiple Oracle applications have a right to expect that Oracle will provide a way to get them to fit together nicely.

AIA is a set of standards and rules by which Oracle and its partners can create elegant bridges between applications. Hundreds of specific cases where sophisticated application integration is needed have already been identified. Oracle will use AIA to insure that all of them are built the same way using a common approach and set of standards.

An Overview of What AIA DoesIn its presentations, Oracle uses the fictional company Redline Telecommunications to illustrate how AIA will work. Redline offers its customers both cell and land line telephone service, DSL Internet access, and satellite communications. Each of these offerings is supported by a different set of applications. Marketing wants to offer multi-product bundles to its customers, but needs a new cross-application solution to do so. AIA provides a way to create a common solution to this problem that others in the same situation can use as well.

AIA starts by creating an Industry Reference Model – a specification for the business processes and data objects that the integration software will support. People with deep industry experience from within Oracle or one of its partners define a best practice approach for solving the very specific problem at hand – in Redline’s case, offering product bundles to telephone customers. Developers then create a Process Integration Pack – a body of integration code that abides by the specifications laid down in the Industry Reference Model for telecommunications firms.

Process Integration Packs will be created, sold, and supported by both Oracle and its partners. They will be developed using Oracle Fusion Middleware and will employ its run-time environment. Oracle’s middleware bundle will include Enterprise Business Objects, a library of software objects that can be used in the creation of Process Integration Packs. Oracle provides further details about the elements of AIA at the web site it has set up for the technology initiative.

Not surprisingly, AIA will be developed to widely accepted open standards. Like everything new from Oracle, AIA revolves around the service-oriented architecture (SOA) concept. It thus represents a first step toward Fusion Applications – one that can be taken without the need for massive conversions or retraining.

Where’s the Catch?Most of you may be thinking, “Great, now where is the catch?” Like any new technology-driven idea, AIA will endure a considerable time lag between concept and maturity. Hundreds of Process Integration Packs are going to be needed over time. Each one will deal with the intersection of two or more specific applications within one particular industry. Like the old board game Clue, where the object was to solve a murder (e.g. the butler did it in the parlor with a candlestick), there will be many possible combinations.

Given its broad scope, AIA will remain an interesting theory for most organizations until a specific solution of interest becomes available. Most JD Edwards customers will have to wait a while, possibly years, before a Process Integration Pack relevant to them and to their industry reaches the market. The AIA announcement included examples from the telecommunications, retail, financial services, and utility industries – none of which make any significant use of JD Edwards. Oracle has not forgotten us; we are just not yet at the top of the list.

Discussions have already begun within Oracle as to where the most urgent integration needs lie within the JD Edwards community. We were told that by August, the first wave of Process Integration Packs geared toward our needs will at least be identified. A handful of these offerings could reach JD Edwards users over the next year.

As AIA progresses from being an interesting idea into a concrete set of offerings, The JD Edwards Advisor will keep you informed. Once Oracle defines specific Process Integration Packs that are of direct interest to JD Edwards customers, we will post articles about them. Since decisions have not yet been made as to what to do first, there is an opportunity for any of you that have an urgent need to make it known. Let us know what you want and we will help lobby for its inclusion.