There is a lot of excitement and hype right now about cloud computing — and for a good reason. Gone are the old days of waiting for central IT to approve, evaluate, deploy and test applications, which required many months and big budgets. Instead, lines of business can now instantly deploy and use any applications they might want or need.
Taking it a step further, they can also connect to the huge resource of cloud assets outside the organization, from syndicated data like surveys, trends and forecasts to government demographic and industry data and all of the data coming online from the much-anticipated Internet of Things. It seems as though we are headed to a nirvana of cloud computing where everything will be at our beckoning.
But there’s a dark side to “the cloud” that no one talks about: it doesn’t really exist. There is no single, magical place where all an organization’s apps and data live in harmony.
The challenge today, the Integrator’s Dilemma, if you will, is that the explosion of clouds combined with legacy on-premises applications exponentially increases integration complexity. Companies have to contend with numerous moving parts — think Hadoop, SQL, Big Data, unstructured content, APIs — all amplified by the explosion of machine data, the variety of data sources, the physical structures of data and the variety of locations where critical business data now resides.
In fact, there are millions of clouds, public and private, and they are multiplying and moving all over the atmosphere — one for every SaaS application, corporate department server and data set. All too often, these clouds live in silos in organizations and they don’t share information, interact with each other across departments or with the legacy applications and data warehouses companies have on premises.
The average Fortune 500 company today has countless major apps and data sets, all frequently working in isolation. Research from Skyhigh Networks shows that on average its customers use 545 cloud services.
Connecting all those applications and disparate data into smarter operations and insights is essential to running an efficient and successful business. The promise of integration is to deliver fast and seamless flows of transactions across the organization in order to drive customer and employee satisfaction across the entire customer experience, not just one line of business at a time.
Application, process and data integration is meant to enable fully informed yet real-time decisions based on all related data, not just pieces of it. Connection should provide economies of scale, minimize cost and risk, maximize productivity and deliver new insights. This is where nirvana lies.
Let’s consider an example. When a salesperson visits a potential customer the rep wants to be well informed about the customer’s previous orders, any outstanding service tickets, the general status of the relationship and more. SaaS applications allow mobile access, but the sales rep still typically has to log into separate SFA, customer service, social and financial applications and potentially more to gather the information the rep needs, and get not only the transactional details but multi-source analytics and any relevant current and real-time trends and KPIs.
This is a precious waste of time for someone who should be focused on customer acquisition and adoption. By streaming data from multiple systems in real time and allowing mobile employees to dynamically assemble the information they need when they need it, you get the real value out of your social, mobile, analytics and cloud investments.
History is one predictor of the future, and once again companies are grappling with point-to-point integrations that require significant cost investment and are slow to provide productivity gains and ROI. The old, on-premises approach to integration just does not make sense in today’s multi-cloud environment. It’s time to unlock the full capability of all those amazing SaaS applications and data sets by getting them to work together.
Consider a marketing team that is trying to maximize its digital marketing budget. They can look at Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other channels individually, which may be insightful but doesn’t tell the whole story. By aggregating and integrating these social channels with their cloud-based business analytics and marketing automation solutions and their on-premises financial system they can quickly analyze data and signals across channels — enabling them to actively track fan counts, engagement rates, bounce rates and viral distribution of posts across all these channels.
Business people think about how to compete and win. IT people think about how to best serve their internal customers. Neither should have to think too much about accessing and getting their data to interoperate the way it should. Business and IT should be free to run fast, deploy whatever apps and data are needed to succeed and know that it can all work together as it should, across their organization.
The key to this scenario is thinking beyond point-to-point integrations and instead pursuing a model where connections are made in real time between applications, process and data on a single cloud platform. Only by pursuing modern, fast and flexible integrations will companies be able to operate at cloud speed.
Companies looking to achieve this level of success, to reach a state where data is streamed instead of stored, should ask the following questions when developing an integration strategy:
- Do I have the organizational and infrastructural agility to respond to fast-changing markets?
- Are my systems flexible enough to absorb new requirements and applications?
- What kinds of skill sets does my organization need to be able to move at cloud speed?
- Do I really need to provision for the black swan event?
- How do I take advantage of the emerging API economy?
The world is rushing to cloud computing. It’s where the future of business lives, where organizations can be more elastic: scalable, flexible and global. It’s also where companies can reduce costs, streamline processes, make smart decisions in real time and connect to the immense volume of valuable data increasingly available online.
There is no single, magical cloud where all an organization’s apps and data live in harmony. The key is recognizing the dark side of cloud computing and not letting it stand in your way. With proper cloud integration, there’s always a silver lining.
Gaurav Dhillon is the CEO of SnapLogic, which offers the market-leading elastic Integration platform for the enterprise, and counts some of the leading companies in the Global 2000 as customers. Previously, Gaurav co-founded and served as CEO of Informatica, which he led from a startup idea to a public company and a leader in the data integration market he pioneered for enterprise software.