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Q&A: Integration Consortium founder Michael Kuhbock

When like-minded integration professionals get together and talk frankly, they can make a big impact, according to the founder of the Integration Consortium (IC).

The member-funded group seeks to provide an unbiased "social collaboration platform" so that professionals can share experience, knowledge and best practices, according to Michael Kuhbock, founder and chairman emeritus. To this end, the IC maintains a Web site with resource documents and collaboration tools, including blogs, wikis and discussion forums. The organization also coordinates the annual Global Integration Summit and regional user groups. And it helps facilitate "collaboration communities" on different topics, such as service-oriented architecture (SOA).

The Vienna, Va.-based nonprofit organization was originally founded in 2001 as the Enterprise Application Integration Industry Consortium but changed its name to the Integration Consortium in 2004. SearchDataManagement recently caught up with Kuhbock and Leanne MacDonald, executive director, to learn more about the IC and why it just dropped its rates for individual members.

What is the IC's mission? We are truly one of the only nonprofit, open organizations that allow all stakeholders...

a voice about our agenda, what we work on and how we deliver it to the marketplace. We're a group of like-minded professionals. The standards bodies and the vendors [and their sponsored groups] do a wonderful job and are very much needed, but there's a direction that those groups will go, based on who's financing them. If I'm a multi-million-dollar organization and I'm financing a consortium around an area of interest, I will definitely want to shape the direction of the topics and the agenda of the organization. But the IC is member-driven -- so if you put the effort, energy and passion into it, you can help create a better tomorrow for IT and business.

The IC is about creating a peer community that is not influenced by vendors. The vendors participate in IC -- but we want end users to have a voice and to be able to put their challenges on the table without someone trying to sell them something. It's a very diverse, multi-dimensional organization that allows for everything except hard [selling] to each other. We just don't allow that. What are some of the integration challenges facing your members today?
There are a number of issues around SOA strategies, for example, which we're addressing with the new IC SOA group and resources. The problem is that vendors are moving at light-speed [touting SOA and other new technologies] and assume the rest of the world is keeping pace. In reality, end users are still dealing with mainframe issues -- and hard-wired integration issues -- and can't even look at an SOA philosophy for their organization until they get their integration issues addressed. How is the IC helping members address these challenges?
Through the social collaboration platform or infrastructure that the IC has set up. We have members all over the world and we're well known in the IT community. We have blogs, and other Web 2.0 tools [such as wikis], to help our members interact. And then we try to get people together virtually and physically. We have nine regional chapters that set their own agendas and meeting schedules. And then we have things like the IC SOA. [The group has bi-weekly conference calls that the IC facilitates and a secure area on the IC Web site for document sharing and discussion.] How is the IC helping members address these challenges?
One of the things we just kicked off is the Private Knowledge Exchange. This is private for end users only [no vendors allowed] and we've built out a secure area on the Web site for them, where they can exchange documents and post questions. It's not specific to any kind of technology; it's more about our end users having a vehicle to collaborate. What do you think is driving the IC's growth?
I think the time is right. There's a lot of frustration coming from IT and business people trying to find some real solutions to everyday problems -- not the problems that we're marketed -- but the everyday problems that people are facing. Then there are problems like: How do you sell a $20 million, four-year SOA project to an executive? That you only learn from war wounds and personal experience. That's what the peer groups are starting to share. That's an interesting example you just picked -- it's a more business-oriented integration topic.
Right -- that's one of the things the IC has been known for. When I started the original group, even then I saw that there was an IT and business alignment issue. There were communication problems. Business and IT speak different languages. Now, we're trying to get IT to sell to business, and that is not IT's strength.

For a CIO or IT director that came up from a developer or architecture role, their core competency is not sales and marketing, otherwise they'd be in sales or marketing. But now they have to sell IT to someone in sales and marketing to get the budget they need so that they can roll out a solution for the business. IT is talking about evolving SOA -- and all of the other tools and solutions that will help business agility -- but now we have to sell that to business. We're trying to empower IT to sell to business, but they have no tools and no experience to do so. That's one of the biggest hurdles. But our peer networking groups have business-centric people participating, so these are some of the issues that they're working on. How many members do you have -- and why did you just drop your fees?
We have about 55 to 60 companies that are corporate members. We just redid our membership structure last week, so now individuals can join for only $100 [instead of $500, as it was before]. How many members do you have -- and why did you just drop your fees?
But we have a database of about 10,000 people. They're not all members. I bump into people all over the world who want to be members but didn't have the $500 budget. But they read the emails and newsletters, and they go to our site for resources. So the board made a decision to essentially subsidize individual memberships so we can get a greater mass of people contributing.

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