Improving Application Decoupling in Virtual Enterprise Integration

Improving Application Decoupling in Virtual Enterprise Integration

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8933-4.ch005
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The interaction of applications belonging to several enterprise information systems (EIS), forming a collaborative network in a virtual enterprise (VE) context, raises an application integration problem that is even more stringent than within a single EIS, since a VE has a temporary nature and therefore integration requirements can change more frequently. Current integration technologies, such as web services and RESTful APIs, solve the interoperability problem but usually entail more coupling than required by the interacting applications. This is caused by sharing data schemas between applications, even if not all features of those schemas are actually exercised. The fundamental problem of application integration is therefore how to provide at most the minimum coupling possible while ensuring at least the minimum interoperability requirements. This chapter proposes compliance and conformance as the concepts to achieve this goal, by sharing only the subset of the features of the data schema that are actually used.
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Traditionally, enterprises focused on having a well-designed enterprise architecture, a web site as the customer interface, an enterprise integration solution to deal with the supply chain, and the enterprise was practically open for business, for either products or services.

However, digital-based technologies such as cloud computing, mobile devices, and the Internet of Things (IoT) (Paul, & Saraswathi, 2017) started to become ubiquitous and disruptive, and customers became more acquainted and at ease with digital services. Nowadays, customers want everything self-service, anywhere, anytime, with as little effort as possible. The world has entered a Digital Era (Liska, 2018; Chamoux, 2018), in which the simple alignment between Business and Information Technology (IT) is no longer enough (Kahre, Hoffmann, & Ahlemann, 2017). Figure 1 illustrates the complexity of the current enterprise technological landscape.

Figure 1.

An example of a complex enterprise technological landscape


Today, a classical and well-designed enterprise architecture is almost a liability, rather than an asset, due to the inertia regarding change that it entails. A small, startup enterprise can outrun an established enterprise in a short period, if its business model is innovative enough. A large organizational mass (a complex enterprise architecture), which translates to inertia and lack of agility, ability to innovate, and adaptability, is an enterprise’s worst enemy. Since enterprises are usually integrated in complex supply chains, the overall business of an enterprise cluster can only be as agile and innovative as its most traditional member.

Digital technologies, and the business models they enable, are the key factor in this highly interconnected world. This means that enterprises need to become more and more digital, from top to bottom. The business itself must be inherently digital, not just enabled by digital technologies (Uhl, & Gollenia, 2016).

For an existing company, this does not mean improving the web site, moving the business to the cloud, making business processes more automated, or adding some digital features to existing products or services. This is just a digital makeup, or digital optimization. A true digital transformation (Hinings, Gegenhuber, & Greenwood, 2018; Bohnsack, Hanelt, Marz, & Marante, 2018) means reinventing the business model and providing a significant improved value as perceived by customers (Delgado, 2015), while significantly reducing the organizational inertia by taking a light approach on the supplier and resource channels.

A typical strategy is to concentrate on the core business and to establish collaborative networks (Durugbo, 2016) with other enterprises that have complementary goals. Traditionally, collaborations were long-lasting partnerships. Today, the market changes very swiftly and partnerships are much more limited in their time span, usually for the duration of some project or useful lifetime of a product.

This is the idea underlying the concept of virtual enterprise (VE), which corresponds to a temporary partnership between several enterprises with a specific set of goals (Kovács, & Kot, 2017). A VE can encompass several enterprises and a given enterprise can participate in several VEs. This organization provides a better governance of the partnership, since it is governed as an enterprise (although virtual), than having each enterprise govern all its partnerships without clear boundaries.

The goal is also to better support the integration of the applications of the Enterprise Information Systems (EIS) of the various enterprises, since there should a mission, a vision, and a strategy of the VE, which are not necessarily the same as those of each of the enterprises. However, if this is already difficult within one enterprise, the challenge is far greater when several enterprises are involved, particularly when the creation and termination of VEs can occur within relatively short time spans.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Virtual Enterprise: A temporary partnership between several enterprises with a specific set of goals.

Service: The set of operations supported by an application that together define its behavior (the set of reactions to messages that the application is able to receive and process).

Compliance: Asymmetric property between a consumer C and a provider P ( C is compliant with P ) that indicates that C satisfies all the requirements of P in terms of accepting requests.

Agility: The capacity of an enterprise to adapt (reactively and/or proactively) to changes in its environment in a timely and cost-efficient manner.

Conformance: Asymmetric property between a provider P and a consumer C ( P conforms to C ) that indicates that P fulfills all the expectations of C in terms of the effects caused by its requests.

Interoperability: Asymmetric property between a consumer C and a provider P ( C is compatible with P ) that holds if C is compliant with P .

Consumer: A role performed by a resource A in an interaction with another B , which involves making a request to B and typically waiting for a response.

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