Systems Integration
Systems & Software Engineering

Experience in developing components and interfaces to allow disparate systems to work together in an integrated manner enables the Intelligent Systems Department of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to provide services to integrate systems and applications from the individual business unit up to the enterprise level.

SwRI has experience in developing components and interfaces to allow disparate systems to work together in an integrated manner.

SwRI has experience in developing components and interfaces to allow disparate systems to work together in an integrated manner.

In a recent pharmacy software project, engineers used web services to facilitate communications between a legacy hierarchical database and new systems written in J2EE.

Data, Data, Everywhere

Today's organizations are made up of many business units with information systems designed to serve the specialized needs of those business units. The problem is, these systems have separate interfaces for data entry and extraction, and the systems don't talk to each other. Enterprise data live in a mix of legacy systems, custom applications and commercial software applications and databases. The data in these systems are often redundant – having differing terminology for the same concepts. There is no single version of the truth.

When business entities are acquired by other business entities, what happens to the individual information systems of the two entities? Often, accounting and human resources systems are merged (out of necessity) so financial data may be recorded accurately for the merged enterprise and employees continue to receive correct benefits and payroll. However, many times there is a mountain of historical data (operational, engineering, etc.) that remains in separate systems.

To compound this problem even further, desktop computers and applications are becoming more powerful, and savvy users can program their own solutions to their individual business needs – creating even more distributed systems.

In general, these distributed systems do an efficient job of collecting and storing data. These systems fall short, however, in the analysis of the collective data across business units or across the enterprise. In these cases, questions like "What is our status?" or "What if?" become difficult to answer without visiting multiple systems and manually correlating the data, or coding yet another system to do the job. Sometimes a response like "Give me a month to check the systems and correlate the data," is not a good enough answer.

Pulling it all Together

Obviously, replacing all of the disparate systems with a single solution to handle all the information needs of the enterprise would solve the problem. However, the prospect of throwing away current information systems investments, coupled with the expense of developing and deploying an enterprise system, is not always desirable or even feasible. In those cases, it is usually more desirable to leverage the existing IT investment and employ technology to allow the systems to interoperate.

Service oriented architectures (SOA) and web services make it possible to capture the business logic of disparate systems and enable them to exchange data with each other. Standard data formats and interface protocols, such as XML, CORBA, SOAP and WSDL, facilitate exchange of information between systems. Finally, common user interfaces may be provided using multi-platform languages such as Java or .NET.


Integrated systems using the technologies mentioned above offer the following advantages:

  • Security
  • Scalability
  • Reusability of components
  • Maintainability

Additionally, integrated systems provide a bigger picture of business data and enable better-informed decisions.

Implementation costs can be more easily controlled for a systems integration effort than for a complete replacement because the scope of the integration can be defined at the smallest level that makes sense for the enterprise at a given time. Other systems can be plugged in when business conditions are ideal.

Related Terminology

software engineering  •  information systems  •  information system development  •  information systems engineering  •  full life cycle development  •  systems integration  •  infrastructure specification  •  system architecture specification  •  service-oriented architecture

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Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 9 technical divisions.