Over the past couple of years, we have noticed a significant uptick in inquiries from clients on the subject of MFT to support external data exchanges. In fact, one survey listed MFT as the primary area of planned enhancements to their B2B program (see the graphic).
But what is driving this need? Our discussions with clients indicate that the primary push for MFT is coming from the business side and is related to the increasing number of compliance regulations that organizations must deal with. For example, information security provisions are extensively covered under HIPAA regulations in the US healthcare sector and Sarbanes-Oxley and Basel II laws covering financial reporting. Similar regulations have come up in other sectors as well.
Another factor is the number of highly visible security exposures that have resulted in the compromise of company and employee information over the past several years. This has captured the attention of both senior management and auditors in forcing a review of existing file transfer processes that typically reveal many shortcomings that can be overcome with the use of a robust MFT tool.
We expect that security and privacy demands will continue to grow, so expect MFT to be an increasingly hot topic for some time to come.
There are four main categories of MFT solutions available in the market today, including:
Robust, general-purpose solutions. These are products that provide comprehensive MFT features based on enhanced FTP capability in the areas of security, administration, and governance support. One example in this area is IBM Sterling Connect:Direct, which has a long history in providing MFT support. Many other vendors, including Axway, Ipswitch, and Tibco, also provide products in this category.
High-speed solutions. A small number of vendors provide MFT products specifically designed to support high-speed file transfers. Tibco's RocketStream and GroupLogic's MassTransit are leading examples of this type of product.
Software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based solutions. Several vendors, including Accellion, Adobe, Aspera, Cyber-Ark Software, IntraLinks, Ipswitch, Liaison Technologies, ShareFile, and Smith Micro Software, offer MFT solutions hosted in the cloud.
Ad hoc and email-based solutions. Vendors including Ipswitch, Smith Micro Software, and YouSendIt provide MFT solutions based on commonly available email systems such as Microsoft Outlook.
Comprehensive integration solutions (CISes) have been in the market for several years and provide robust features for solving application, B2B, and process integration challenges. But what a lot of people don't yet understand is that these tools can also dramatically speed up general-purpose application development efforts as well. Savings of 40% to 60% reduction in time and cost are frequently quoted by enterprises using a CIS for application development. How is this possible, you ask?
CIS products provide several tightly integrated components that can speed up development efforts, including:
A graphical environment that supports model-driven development. This approach replaces manual java coding with dynamic interpretation of java code based on process models created in either BPMN or BPEL diagrams.
An embedded ESB that provides out-of-the-box features supporting messaging, routing, and transaction management. ESBs can be used to minimize the creation of point-to-point integration interfaces with a more-flexible service bus approach.
An integration server that supports both simple and complex transformations with full support for a wide range of EDI and XML-based data formats.
A registry/repository for supporting the creation, management, and reuse of a wide range of application artifacts, including services.
While the increasing capability of tools to cross integration silos is a significant development, the main thrust behind holistic integration efforts inside of enterprises should be focused on bringing together the disparate integration teams (for application, B2B, process, and data integration) to create a comprehensive enterprise integration strategy and implementation plan. These teams have traditionally operated in isolation, but that has to change if we really want to make progress in improving the success of integration efforts. As the following chart shows, this process is tool agnostic.
There are many hurdles to this approach, not the least of which will be internal resistance from individual team members. However, we have spoken with a few organizations that have adopted this strategy, and they believe they are on the right track. Is your organization considering this? Does this approach make sense? Please share your thoughts.
SAP's recent acquisition of Crossgate does not mark a significant change in either vendor's level of B2B functionality. It is strictly a matter of SAP exerting control over an increasingly important deployment channel (SaaS-based B2B document exchange). SAP and Crossgate first entered into a partnership in 2007, and the two parties have gradually worked to integrate their respective offerings since that time.
However, this is not the only opportunity that SAP customers have to support their electronic document exchange needs. Seeburger has provided (directly and indirectly) effective B2B alternatives for SAP customers for more than twenty years, and we do not expect this to change. GXS and Sterling Commerce (IBM) also support managed services document exchange for many SAP customers (similar to those of Crossgate). And finally, a growing number of integration providers offer direct B2B document exchange capability based on the AS1/AS2/AS3 protocols.
So this announcement is about "more of the same" than anything else.
All indications are that the use of open source integration tools and cloud-based integration are hot topics in many organizations. We are in the process of capturing current interest statistics and invite you to take our short survey that covers these issues.
Forrester has identified holistic integration as one of the top ten technology trends for the 2012 to 2014 timeframe. But what is it?
Holistic integration is a strategy that promotes a combined approach for meeting the application, B2B, process, and data integration needs of the enterprise. The process begins with a comprehensive planning effort that analyzes the specific demands of each area and identifies common approaches that can improve integration efforts across these former functional silos.
In the past, organizations have shied away from a common approach to their integration needs, as the available tools generally focused on a single area. But that is changing rapidly. Today’s integration solutions can provide application, B2B, and process integration in a single integrated stack. And some vendors are also adding data integration functionality into the mix. This means that holistic integration is more than just a planning exercise; it is also an implementation strategy. Bottom line, a holistic approach to integration is becoming more feasible with every passing day.
Forrester published its most recent evaluation of B2B service providers in October 2009. At that time, the market was dominated by three large providers: GXS, Sterling Commerce, and Inovis. Shortly after this report was published, the consolidation began, with GXS and Inovis consummating a merger in December 2009. In June 2010, IBM announced that it had acquired Sterling Commerce, which was at that time the #2 provider of EDI VAN and B2B managed services. And last week, Liaison announced that it had acquired nuBridges (including its VAN, managed services, MFT, and hosted security capabilities). Bottom line, the market landscape looks significantly different than it did just 18 months ago.
What does this mean for clients who have significant EDI and B2B needs?
For starters, there is obviously less competition than there used to be, and this could lead to higher prices over the long haul (though the current economic problems are having a dampening effect on this so far).
Secondly, clients with a long-standing relationship with a particular provider may experience some service issues during the transition to the new organization, and we have heard some reports of problems in this area. Clients need to be diligent in holding new providers responsible for delivering the same level of service (or higher) than what they were receiving previously.
Clients should pay close attention to B2B service provider contracts that may be expiring in the next year and make sure to leave enough time for effective analysis of alternatives in support of contract renewal negotiations.
IBM recently announced its B2B integration solutions strategy in the wake of the finalization of its recent acquisition of Sterling Commerce. Here are the highlights:
Sterling Integrator (SI) was the flagship Sterling Commerce software solution, and it will now become the foundation of IBM’s B2B integration solutions strategy. In the process, Sterling Integrator will be combined with several key IBM integration tools, thereby extending the capability of the total solution even further. Specifically, IBM intends to integrate Sterling Integrator with its ESB solutions (WebSphere Message Broker and WebSphere ESB), WebSphere Transformation Extender (WTX), and WebSphere Service Registry and Repository.
The Sterling Collaboration Network (SCN) has also been designated as a strategic B2B integration solution for both IBM and Sterling Commerce customers. IBM is evaluating several possible enhancements including enhancement of existing value-added solutions (e-Invoicing, WebForms and Supply Chain Visibility apps, geographic expansion of the network, and enhanced disaster recovery capability).
IBM will also provide a portfolio of Managed File Transfer (MFT) solutions to cover a range of file transfer needs. The three MFT solutions that IBM will provide include the Sterling File Gateway (for trading partner file transfer management, multi-protocol support with a single administration, governance, visibility, and development environment), WebSphere MQ File Transfer Edition (native MQ-based file transfers), and SterlingConnect: Direct (for high-volume file transfers in a peer-to-peer environment with assured data delivery).
TIBCO completed the acquisition of Proginet on September 16, 2010. What does this mean for users of Proginet's file transfer products? We see four key areas of interest related to this acquisition:
Increased vendor stability. Proginet was a small firm that had good products but was still facing difficult financial times due to its limited product lineup. Now that Proginet is part of a larger, more successful organization, its users will no longer have to be concerned about the ongoing viability of the product.
Improved product support. Proginet users will now have access to 24x7 support via TIBCO's product support team.
Product rebranding. All of the Proginet products including the CyberFusion MFT product and the Slingshot, RocketStream, and AnyFileNow file transfer products will be rebranded (as TIBCO MFT, TIBCO Slingshot, TIBCO RocketStream, and TIBCO Silver MFT, respectively).
Higher prices. Proginet users will be migrated to the applicable TIBCO products over time at the prevailing TIBCO prices.
In addition, TIBCO will be embedding the Proginet MFT features into its BusinessWorks product and will also continue to support the extensive OEM arrangements that Proginet had with other software vendors.
What's your take on the value of MFT in your organization? Is MFT an important component of your integration landscape? Is its usage growing? We would like to hear your opinion. Please give us your feedback by commenting directly or by sending me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.