The Convergence of the EAI and ERP Markets

A Look Back on EAI Consulting in an ERP World with B2B Workforce's Brian Trout

 

EAI Consulting in an ERP World:
An Historical View of the EAI Marketplace with Brian Trout of B2B Workforce

Part One

October 11, 2001

Prepare yourself: the "Web-Integrated EAI" consulting market is here, and it's creating opportunities for consultants with a range of backgrounds in ERP, supply chain, executive information systems, and Java/web development. To mark the launch of EAIcareers.com, we sat down with mySAPCareers' EAI Staffing Director Brian Trout and spoke with him in detail about this promising new consulting arena.

During this EAI launch interview, we ask Brian to define the new EAI market and to make a case for the importance of EAI skills as companies extend their ERP systems online. Through the course of our discussion, we break down the differences between "traditional" EAI and web-driven EAI, and pinpoint the kinds of consulting opportunities that are going to be available on the EAI projects of the future. We also ask Brian to explain the significance of the "real-time" computing model that is driving many of these EAI projects. As Brian tells us, real-time computing is a vision for the future of IT that will allow companies to finally convert on all the dollars and time invested in ERP systems, linking them via EAI into strategic, "real-time" e-business applications.

In part one of our interview, Brian gives us an overview of where the EAI market stands today. He tells us about the impending demand for EAI consultants in a web-driven, e-business world, and what inspired him to launch EAIcareers.com.

Reed: Brian, what's a good starting point for someone who's trying to get a handle on the EAI market?

Brian Trout: The articles in our first EAI Week in Review do a good job of breaking down today's EAI issues. A couple of the articles outline the current efforts to create a universal XML standard, and the need to integrate EDI and XML transactions using the same EAI toolkit. There's also a great article on the differences between EAI and B2B projects. It's important to understand that there's a major difference between "traditional" EAI projects and web-driven efforts to integrate customers and suppliers into your e-business infrastructure. Many of the major EAI vendors are involved in both kinds of projects, but it's important to understand that different kinds of projects rely on different technologies. The EAI and B2B article we selected ("The Ins and Outs of Integration") does a great job of charting the differences.

Reed: Brian, can you give us a working definition of "Enterprise Application Integration?"

Trout: When you talk about EAI, it's such a broad term with such different uses that it's often a bit unclear as to what you're really talking about. In layman's terms, when we use the term "EAI" today, we're talking about taking the back-end ERP systems, or legacy and order management systems, and plugging them into the e-business systems of the future. The big challenge is developing the right integration strategy and translation protocols. The B2B exchanges in the e-commerce world of the future are going to center around these developing cXML and ebXML document standards, neither of which openly communicate with ERP systems. A collaborative bi-directional flow of information between these systems requires data transformation tools.

In SAP's case, using the SAP Business Connector, those documents are converted into IDOC format, which is SAP's communication format for those kinds of systems. Every SAP installation I've talked to has told me that they're going to be doing development projects of this type in the future. EAI consulting is an area that mySAPCareers plans to be heavily involved in. But you have to start thinking outside the box away from SAP a little bit, because all the big ERP customers are going to be involved in EAI integration projects. PeopleSoft, Oracle, JD Edwards - all of these customers have the same brokering architecture issues and they're all looking for the same type of EAI consultant.

Reed: What inspired you to conceive of an EAI Career Center at mySAPCareers?

Trout: The goal behind EAIcareers.com is to create a cutting edge resource center for consultants in an area that is going to constitute a major portion of IT budgets going forward. The EAI project of the future is going to be less package-specific than ERP projects - it will be more of an across-the-board type of undertaking for organizations that have a big IT infrastructure where multiple segments of an organization can realize value and optimize their ROI. Some of the people that are now working through mySAPCareers on these types of EAI projects tell us that their project managers are calling these initiatives "Extended ERP projects."

We expect to see an increasing amount of these kinds of extended ERP projects out there. It may take a while for these new EAI ventures to establish momentum. We have to keep in mind that we're still subject to the same IT issues we already have on the table: the economy needs to strengthen before more organizations commit to their online strategies, and XML standards need to mature. But EAI technology is right at the cornerstone of any kind of extended reach that you want to get out your ERP applications.

Reed: What are your goals for the web site?

Trout: Our goal with EAIcareers.com is to provide a cutting edge resource for consultants from a variety of backgrounds - including SAP, Ariba, and Siebel, as well as Java programmers and those already working on EAI projects. Our aim is to help folks position themselves to take advantage of these emerging opportunities. EAIcareers.com will be a place where people can go and learn about how other consultants are finding opportunities on EAI and "extended ERP" projects. And of course we'll feature our own direct project opportunities in these areas so that people can take a look at the kinds of positions that clients are really filling right now. There's no better way to get a handle on a new field than by seeing the positions that clients are hiring for now.

Maybe the best thing about EAICareers.com is that it will provide a backbone that links all of our existing career resources. Our current subscribers in B2B, CRM, and SAP will all find relevant career information on EAIcareers.com. Just like EAI links applications together on project sites, EAIcareers will provide a conceptual link between the different e-business career areas we are currently dedicated to.

Reed: Brian, tell us more about how the definition of EAI is evolving and what today's EAI projects are all about.

Trout: As I alluded to earlier, whenever you use the term "EAI," the first thing you need to do is to delineate between traditional EAI integration versus B2B integration. A project manager of a classic EAI project would describe it this way: "I've got an ERP system, and I've got three or four other kinds of internal systems that have their own protocol, languages, and communication sets. I want these systems to talk to each other, and I want to be able to pass information around these systems in a realistic, time-dependent way that allows me to support an internal business process." EAI provides tools to do that. And that type of EAI work is where many of today's leading EAI vendors really got their foundation.

But now, coupled with the continuation of those types of initiatives, you now have companies saying, "We want to have an online portal where people can come to our web site, check out our products online, and order products over the web using CRM e-sales applications. We want to be hooked up with our suppliers online, so that when we need raw materials it's all done through web-enabled XML exchanges instead of traditional EDI exchange protocols." So the question is, how do you make that kind of project happen?

Fifteen years ago, all you could say was, "OK, we have a bunch of legacy systems and we don't have any clue how to tie them all together." But now most major companies have a moving target that we fondly refer to as an ERP system. They have all this data from back-end systems captured inside an ERP system such as SAP. But in order to make their online e-business projects a reality, those online applications have to be able to talk to SAP and access data from the SAP system, and SAP doesn't readily do that.

So to solve those problems, here comes "Web Integration EAI," which I believe will be a much bigger piece of the EAI pie in the long term. When you look at the sophisticated, high-end companies that are allocating IT budget dollars right now, they're allocating their money to "Web Integration EAI" initiatives. Of course, not all companies are ready for that. A lot of companies in the ERP space are not at an acceptable level, in their mind, on the back end, where they are ready to start looking at integration with the front end. But others are ready. It is an interesting time in the EAI consulting space, because the big wave of opportunity hasn't hit yet. But it's coming, there's no doubt about that. The only question is "When?"

EAI Consulting in an ERP World:
An Historical View of the EAI Marketplace with Brian Trout of B2B Workforce
Part Two
December 10, 2001

In part two of our interview, we get right into the "meat" of the EAI consulting market and find out what skills are going to be in demand on these projects. Brian tells us about the kinds of EAI projects he is seeing and the kinds of skills companies are asking for. We ask Brian to break down the different kinds of opportunities that are emerging and to give us a sense of how people are moving into EAI '96 from ERP, from Java/XML, best-of-breed vendors, etc. We learn about the first EAI requirements Brian ran into, and our discussion provides so insight into the "wave of integration" work that is going to hit most ERP implementations in the coming years.

Jon Reed: Brian, you're making a good case for the impending need for EAI consultants. But what kinds of skills will be needed on these projects?

Brian Trout: In terms of specific EAI consulting needs, there's going to be huge demand for a range of EAI talent. Consultants who have development skills using the EAI suites of the leading vendors are seeing their rates rise by the month. And that positive outlook extends to the vendors themselves: Tibco, webMethods, Vitria - that whole web-driven EAI space - I believe that the stocks of many of these major players will be among the quickest to rebound.

This might give readers a better sense of the kind of EAI skills we're talking about: We recently got a phone call from a B2B software vendor that's going to focus on helping clients leverage their ERP systems into an e-business framework utilizing EAI technology. So they're going to be looking for consultants with EAI-related capabilities to help install and support their product line on client sites. They're a growing company in real need of consultants with Java and XML skills. They are also going to need consultants with implementation experience using EAI interpreter tools and adapters like webMethods, Tibco, and Vitria ‘96 those types of applications.

The major ERP vendors will have their own proprietary EAI toolkits as well, and you're going to need consultants who have expertise with those products. SAP has what they call a "Business Connector," which is basically an XML receptor that is their entry point into third party e-business systems. For example, a client we've been staffing on the SAP side wants to be part of an exchange called Elemica, which is a digital market/trading exchange for the chemicals industry. Using Elemica, partners can trade chemicals at low cost, conduct auctions, reverse auctions, etc. The majority of the exchange participants are running SAP on the back end as their ERP system. But to do business with an exchange like that, you need SAP to talk real-time to the exchange - but the exchange is using an ebXML messaging format - thus the need for an EAI toolset.

In our client's case, they're going to use webMethods for that. webMethods seems to be the product of choice for a lot of companies right now. The bill rates and the consultant demand is high, and these EAI initiatives, are, for the most part, long term projects - three to six months at least for most of these engineering efforts. And this new market seems to have a broader entry point for consultants. You don't have to be a five year SAP guy to get into these kinds of projects. In fact, anybody with a Java background who has solid experience using XML and EAI technologies, and has also used one of these integration tools such as webMethods, can all of a sudden go from being a $60 an hour resource to a $90 - $125 an hour + resource, and the demand is across the board.
Reed: Tell us more about the backgrounds of the people who have these sought-after EAI skills, do they tend to be ERP people, who have backgrounds in SAP or PeopleSoft implementations?

Trout: Well, there's a lot of ways into EAI, but coming up through ERP is one of the most marketable backgrounds. The most attractive EAI consultant is the person who knows the back-end architecture of ERP systems and has heavy Java development experience (JavaScript, JSP, EJB, J2EE etc), coupled with a strong knowledge of adapter tools. The best type of EAI consultant possesses the knowledge of the particular ERP API architecture you want to utilize as the backbone application - in SAP's case, the BAPIs, or in PeopleSoft's case, their Open Integration Framework. Those consultants who have skills on both sides - the ERP side AND the adapter side - are obviously the most attractive and command the highest rates. But if you're a strong Java consultant with knowledge of the webMethods enterprise tools, you'll still be in very high demand in the market, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Reed: What else do you predict for the foreseeable future?

Trout: I see a huge wave emerging - an integration wave extending ERP into the rest of the marketplace. And that kind of service line doesn't have to be SAP-specific. You'll have Oracle ERP customers that want to tie into the same exchange architectures. I can't envision any end-user that's made a significant investment in ERP that won't look at, in the next 12 to 24 months, these types of EAI initiatives - if they're not already doing it. The reason is simple: everybody's going to need to trade online; they're going to need to move products and exchange services. But the XML standards are still being developed, so the majority of the marketplace hasn't adopted these technologies yet. It's pretty clear that they will in the near future though based on the growth of online communities such as RosettaNet. And whenever you have new spending on IT infrastructures, you can anticipate a commensurate rise in IT hiring.

Reed: Tell us more about the companies that will be hiring EAI talent.

Trout: EAI consulting opportunities will exist with the Big Five who already have Enterprise Integration practices, and also with end-users. But there will also be plenty of opportunities with the major EAI vendors and their professional services divisions. When you look at the packaged EAI solutions, webMethods is the "top dog" right now along with MQ Series and BEA, while Tibco, Vitria, SeeBeyond, CrossWorlds and a host of other application providers are rapidly rolling out new product offerings. There are currently several sets of competing standards, such as the ebXML standard that webMethods is using. These are all brand new protocols, but they are going to be the backbone of the "real-time" e-business framework of the future. Many of these vendors are doing good business right now, and are filling positions internally and in their consulting divisions.

Of course, there will also be plenty of EAI project opportunities working directly for end-users. For example, we've had companies come to us and say, "We've got a 4.6 implementation of SAP running right now, and we're looking to tie that to a B2B exchange, and we need a CrossWorlds consultant with Java background who understands certain BAPIs that can help us link these systems together." Of course, that's a pretty rare skill set right now, but the fact that companies are specifically asking for and hiring this type of background is indicative of the level of demand for EAI skills that we are seeing on project sites. I've heard about this kind of SAP-EAI opening from multiple hiring channels and sources.

Reed: Was there a time when one of your clients asked you specifically for an EAI resource and you weren't really expecting it?

Trout: The first time we got a webMethods requirement, it almost caught me by surprise. Here I am working on staffing an SAP client, and all of a sudden they ask us for a webMethods resource in order to enhance their SAP implementation. That was the first indication to me that there was a possible trend in the works. Of course, it also got my attention that the rates are much more attractive for SAP-EAI developers than for general purpose ABAP programmers. Right now, the ABAP market is pretty commoditized, but if you take an ABAPer who knows Vitria or webMethods and can tie that to an XML conversion product, that raises their stock considerably. That's where a lot of the heads-down development work is going.

We used to make a lot of placements putting ABAPers on projects who could write interfaces to different back-end systems from SAP. Now, it's the same analogy, but now the systems you want to integrate with ERP aren't back-end systems, they're digital marketplace products, online Internet exchanges, and other e-business products that require an extension of existing ERP skill sets. That's why I think there's such a great consulting opportunity ahead for many existing ERP and EAI consultants. There are all these new product lines that are driving the capability to do things now that were not available three or four years ago.

EAI Consulting in an ERP World:
An Historical View of the EAI Marketplace with Brian Trout of B2B Workforce
Part Three
February 25, 2001

In part three of our interview, we start off by looking at how EAI projects - which tend to have a smaller scope than ERP and clearer ROI benefits - can be successful even in a tight economy. Then we move into a discussion of how SAP's expanding e-business platform is going to create numerous EAI consulting opportunities. Finally, we close this installment with a look at how EAI consulting can create viable career transitions for B2B consultants who may be finding Ariba and Commerce One projects hard to come by. As Brian Trout explains, for many B2B consultants, EAI will provide a "high profile" way to utilize hard-won Java and XML skills without being tied to one specific vendor.

Jon Reed: Does it also seem like there are more opportunities here right now in EAI because when you talk about EAI, you don't have to do a massive project, you can do piecemeal upgrades and smaller projects with good ROI prospects? Is there more appeal because these applications are extensions of existing installations and not completely new initiatives?

Brian Trout: That's definitely a factor. It's also easier to quantify a project when you can say that the objective is to "get this application to talk to that application." Projects that have short-term incremental ROI have a much higher likelihood of approval right now as corporate expenditures are more deeply scrutinized.

Reed: How do you see SAP capitalizing on these kinds of opportunities? Obviously SAP has put together a collection of their own EAI-related tools for their clients (SAP Business Connector, BAPIs, Internet Transaction Server). Clearly, SAP is planning to capitalize on the EAI market by getting their customers to use SAP's proprietary EAI toolkit.

Trout: Yes, SAP is definitely intent on capturing some of that EAI business, especially with their current customer base. But more importantly, SAP is selling customers on the level of integration and "real-time data exchange" that's possible when you connect an SAP R/3 system via SAP standard API's into mySAP e-business solutions like APO, CRM, and SEM.

Reed: But a lot of SAP clients, when they select EAI tools, aren't just going to use SAP's EAI toolkit - they're going to turn to other best-of-breed EAI vendors for solutions to their particular e-business objectives.

Trout: Absolutely. In order to understand how SAP customers are going to respond, you need to get a handle on EAI integration and B2B integration separately. Think about all the brick-and-mortar organizations that are running R/3 on the back end. The commonality among all these companies is that they all want the same thing: real-time computing infrastructures to support strategic business needs. They want true decision-support tools that offer real-time access to the right information and give you real decision-making capabilities. It can't be emphasized enough: most companies really don't have true "real-time" systems. At best, they have an ERP infrastructure that has fully consolidated all of the back-end information in one place where reports can be generated.

Reed: But now the real-time dream can be realized...

Trout: Absolutely. Now companies are in a position to begin to "pull out" the data from the ERP system for the purposes of supporting the kinds of real-time applications that are now available. These new e-business apps, when they're fueled by the right data, allow financial and logistics decisions to be made "on the fly" and create measurable savings in inventory reduction and other cost-reduction and customer support functions. When you look at SAP, they're building the real-time apps needed in supply chain (APO), financial/executive support (SEM), e-procurement (EBP), and customer relationship management (CRM) in order to finally leverage the R/3 infrastructure for truly strategic purposes. This is the ultimate value of an ERP system: moving beyond core transactional functions and extending into an online, real-time infrastructure that enhances your relationships with your customers and suppliers.

So the big question for major R/3 clients, in my mind, is not whether or not you pursue these kinds of initiatives, but which initiative should you pursue next and which tools and vendors should you use to meet your particular objectives. From the SAP side, in terms of vertical EAI integration, I think a lot of SAP's customers will go with SAP's e-business applications if SAP can prove their products can do the job. For example, I think a lot of SAP customers will install the SEM product (Strategic Enterprise Management), if SAP can prove that SAP is a truly viable Executive Information System. The same thing goes on the APO side - SAP has to demonstrate that APO can support the real-time decision-making needs of SCM (Supply Chain Management) managers.

So the good news for SAP is that most of their customers have indicated that they will seriously consider installing at least some of SAP's mySAP product line. And SAP has also come through by providing companies with the capabilities to support internal web-based initiatives for their own employees. SAP has been doing a great job of that with the mySAP Workplace. If you're an SAP customer, you can now put BW onto an ITS server and give web-based reporting capabilities to your field sales force, your manufacturing team, and even to users who are not running an R/3 system on their desktops but still need reporting capabilities. That's great functionality for web-based user support.
Reed: But as you've pointed out on other occasions, just because SAP can web-enable a company's internal employees doesn't mean it's easy to do the same thing for "external" e-business ventures.

Trout: You're right. SAP still has a daunting problem: whenever companies launch an external e-business initiative - not for their internal employees, but for outside customers and partners - then they have to enable SAP to talk with other companies' non-SAP systems. Take the case of the chemical client we talked about earlier, the one that wants to join a digital trading exchange. In that case, you need XML-compliant technology. SAP has acknowledged that they can't provide all the technology and solutions needed for this type of initiative. In this case, SAP has said "We'll be an XML receptor - we'll put SAP Business Connector out there as an API funnel for XML-related communication."

The problem is that a lot of R/3 organizations out there are still using EDI on the back end, and the R/3 system wants to see information in an IDOC format. But nobody's broadcasting over the web in an IDOC format. So you need some kind of tool to translate EDI messaging into XML-related messaging. This brings to mind a senior SAP consultant I know who's made a living out of taking EDI messaging and turning it into IDOC translation format for inbound and outbound processing. That's great stuff, but the problem is that now, with the e-business world that's emerging, the standard isn't going to be EDI anymore; it's going to be XML in some format. So some of the work that these SAP-EDI consultants did for SAP clients is not going to hold, because it doesn't support XML connectivity.

When you try to install an e-business product that requires an XML-based format, you're going have to throw away the Gentran EDI translator. Now you've got a webMethods brokerage environment, which is going to allow SAP customers to take EDI and XML and throw them into the same funnel. From that funnel, the data will be dumped back into a format that SAP can grab and convert into an IDOC format. So being an SAP customer and having all this mySAP solution technology doesn't solve all these problems and insulate you from these integration challenges.

Reed: So what term will be used to describe these "Web Integration EAI" initiatives? It seems that "EAI" is still the working term for now.

Trout: That's true, I think we will continue to see the term EAI used to describe both the classic internal integration projects and the new web integration projects. We'll probably also see some trendy new terms for the web-related EAI projects, and we'll have to see if any of those stick. As a company, you have two issues, you have to be connected internally, and you have to be connected externally. Right now there's one main term for both of those kinds of projects.  

Reed: Brian, we have a career site dedicated to B2B professionals working with Ariba, Commerce One, and other B2B packages. Obviously this has been a pretty rough time on many of these best-of-breed B2B vendors. Ariba has pretty much shut down its Marketplace offering and is concentrating on Buyer, its e-procurement product. In the meantime, SAP has been gradually acquiring ownership of Commerce One, a market development that was almost unthinkable a year ago, when SAP looked more like a legacy dinosaur and Commerce One looked like a key player in the exploding B2B market. As a result of these kinds of market changes in the B2B space, there's a lot of B2B consultants out there looking for new opportunities. Do you think these folks will be able to take advantage of the emerging EAI consulting market that we'll be covering at EAIcareers.com?

Trout: Yes I do. There will be opportunities in EAI consulting for many Ariba and C1 consultants. When you look at Ariba implementations, you look at it in functional and technical terms. "Functional" refers to people who understand the design and business functionality of the software. "Technical" typically refers to those with the specific programming experience required for successful Ariba projects - usually some flavor of Java, and a familiarity with specific design tools inside of Ariba. So Ariba and other B2B technical professionals who have already honed their Java backgrounds are in an excellent position to capitalize on these new EAI opportunities.

There's also another opportunity at the EAI Tools layer: to install Ariba anywhere, you need an EAI component, usually Tibco, to link Ariba with internal ERP systems. So the emerging "external, web-based" EAI market should create a number of relevant consulting opportunities for Ariba and B2B consultants. And Siebel and CRM consultants are increasingly familiar with these EAI tools as well. The real hot topic of interest is the EAI components that bring all these e-business applications together, and that's what EAIcareers.com is all about.

Reed: How does Commerce One fit into this picture??

Trout: Commerce One is in a different situation than Ariba. When you look at Commerce One on the e-procurement side, you now have to look at SAP's EBP (Enterprise Buyer Professional) product, which is a direct result of Commerce One's technology morphing into an SAP e-procurement solution. You're going to see more and more of EBP - Coca Cola Enterprises is working on an EBP install right now. This is a familiar pattern: the "big boys" take the lead with these new e-business and EAI initiatives. The Compaqs, the Coca Colas, and the big oil and gas companies with the deep pockets roll out the new technology and build these sandbox prototypes. The results of these early projects have been good and these first implementations seem to be sticking. That means the rest of the market will follow suit when economic times are better. As more and more companies start to show real results from these new EAI and e-business initiatives, we'll see a steady increase in demand.

Currently, the future of Commerce One's partnership with SAP seems to be very unclear, and it's also unclear whether Commerce One will be successful as a "stand alone" vendor without SAP's partnership and support. We've also seen Ariba facing significant market and financial challenges in recent months. Nevertheless, it seems clear that e-procurement systems are going to be a real factor in the e-business landscape of the future. No matter which vendors ultimately triumph, there will be a range of relevant EAI skills required to integrate these e-procurement systems with a company's ERP back end.

EAI Consulting in an ERP World:
An Historical View of the EAI Marketplace with Brian Trout of B2B Workforce
Part Four
April 14, 2001

In the fourth and final part of our interview, we ask Brian to tell us more about how real-time computing initiatives are driving the push for EAI. Using SAP as an example, Brian gives an overview of how the e-business products that SAP is pushing are going to require real-time computing investments, as well as an EAI infrastructure. Brian leaves us with an impression of an EAI market that is poised to take off, and of course we are all eagerly anticipating the next round of corporate investments in IT. We do expect that to happen, and we also expect EAI consulting to be an important piece of the spending puzzle.

Jon Reed: Let's talk a little more about real-time computing: you feel that a company's need for real-time decision support, logistics and management tools is going to drive internal investment in IT projects?

Brian Trout: Yes, I see a lot of promising signs of that. It's pretty clear what people want out of IT, and it's apparent that we're not there yet. In order to get there, we'll need to properly implement the kinds of e-business applications that are becoming available today - products we've already referred to such as SAP's APO and SEM apps. But as I've said, those applications won't function without the right base of information - and to get that information you have to be able to pull data out of transactional ERP systems, and we're now seeing the emergence of EAI tools designed just for that purpose.

Reed: So you see this as a natural evolution?

Trout: Now that the bandwidth needed for these projects is there, it seems inevitable that companies are going to pursue these initiatives. If these projects are successful, they represent the fulfillment of the vision of what IT has been trying to do from the beginning. It just took twenty years and a lot of networking technology and a lot of wasted dollars and false starts in order to get there. But real-time computing is going to start giving executives and businesses in general control over information, and the ability to impact their businesses the way they have always wanted to. Everybody's been talking about it forever, but it's never really happened in the right way.

As products like APO and SEM grow and mature and get integrated into the infrastructure of these companies, the definition of what IT can mean to a business is going to change dramatically. Recently, I was reading in Red Herring (www.redherring.com) that some of the most significant venture capital firms were investing in EAI startups designed to support real-time computing. Kleiner Perkins, one of the most respected VC firms, has done research that indicates the amount of corporate IT spending will grow from 3.5 percent of total sales all the way up to 10 percent. And that's because these new EAI projects bring measurable results that companies can count on. Right now, it's a "nice to have," but soon real-time computing will be a "must have" if companies intend to compete globally.

Reed: That three-to-ten percent statistic is a very compelling one.

Trout: If that projection is anywhere close to being right, then this type of re-engineering and integration is going to be everywhere. It's a whole new phase for ERP - the results of this phase are going to be actual, decision-oriented results for businesses. In the traditional ERP setting, companies finished a project, looked around and said "Well, we've got accounting talking to manufacturing talking to HR, but so what? What are they saying to each other and what does it mean?" Now there's something more they can do with these systems to finally capitalize on all the money they spent integrating their back office.

Reed: Do you think that the major ERP vendors are going to have a good shot at getting in on this "real-time" market?

Trout: Yes I do. When the economy strengthens, companies are going to turn to these types of EAI initiatives. And their first consideration will usually be the e-business products being offered by their resident ERP vendor. SAP is anticipating this trend and they're doing a great job of expanding the functionality of their mySAP product line. To give you an example of how the corporate decision-making process is going, we have an SAP client that was about to put in version 2.0 of the CRM product, but they got a look at one of our 3.0 CRM "pilot project" consultants and said, "What's going on with the 3.0 release?" When they learned about all the additional functionality coming in 3.0, they decided to wait three to six more months until it was ready to go.

Reed: But how will companies that are less committed to SAP respond?

Trout: I know what you're getting at, you're thinking about the R/3 organization that was sitting on the fence and saying, "Well, SAP-CRM 2.0 is kind of weak, we're not really convinced that SAP's got what we want." Well, guess what, here comes version 3.0, and it has dramatically enhanced functionality. The combination of enhanced products and a better economy is going to start freeing up more implementations, and that means more consulting opportunities, and EAI consulting is going to be right in the middle of all this. It's not enough to launch new CRM or supply chain initiatives, you have to make sure that these applications all get along with each other. And if you want all of your systems and applications to talk to each other, you're going to need EAI resources.

Reed: Brian, thanks for this overview of today's EAI market. You've made a good case for the importance of EAI skills for many of today's e-business consultants. We'll definitely check back with you in the future and ask you to continue to define and identify the specific kinds of opportunities and skills enhancements that consultants should be aware of.

Trout: Thanks for the opportunity to contribute. I look forward to the next time.