Effort Estimation for Integration Projects

As the industry consolidates the ECM and Portal products, a dominant pattern is coming out, where the client is looking for business solutions provided by the best of the breed products. Means, I can have Portal Solution using FileNet as the document management, Interwoven as the content management and may be WebSphere Process Server as the middleware. Adapters are available for integration of these products into each other. So, the client instead of focusing on how to integrate these products can actually start worrying on how his business objective will be achieved. Idea is to be able to use 80% of the functionality out of the box and build just 20%. This change has led to the unique problem for the System Integration vendors.

Earlier, when the client gave the business requirements, the vendor will look at the functionality, decide on which application server, database, middleware product to use and estimate the effort. Now, with 80% of the functionality available out of the box, vendors are in dilemma, on how to estimate the effort for providing the business solution. Lot of business functionality will be available out of box, but this might require some customization to map to the requirement. Another 20% of the functionality needs to build from grounds up. In the days of pure Java development, segregating the requirements into high,medium and low and assigning a number would have sufficed. But, today, estimation has become all the more difficult, because how do you estimate if you do not what will be available out of box and what is not available. With every release, Software vendors and tom tomming about new features. But details on these features in terms of flexibility and ability to customize is missing. Hence, estimates for the integration solutions need to be really evaluated in a new light. I guess, that will again come from experience. As system integration vendors gain insight into the products, the estimates will become more scientific and less humane.

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