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Private Cloud Application Platforms

Deploying internal SaaS strategies to improve IT service delivery

The main characteristic that Cloud computing is known for is IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), referring to providers like Amazon who offer storage, bandwidth, computing capacity and other resources so you can run your applications in a high performance environment without buying all that kit yourself.

However it also refers to SaaS (Software as a Service), where applications like CRM are available this same way, and furthermore, that it can also be applied within the enterprise too, aka "private Cloud".

This means an IT organization can also use it to plan and deliver their overall software estate, achieving better application integration as well as more streamlined use of utility infrastructure.

Modular solution assembly
Principally this can be used to adopt a more modular approach to IT solution delivery, rather than the one-off "big bang" purchase of a major enterprise application.

Not only does this approach tend to be slower, with large RFP purchase processes running for months if not years, but it's also notorious for high failure rates. This is principally due to this size, ie. it's the whole elephant, and this is further compounded by how single categories of application aren't always quite the right fit for business needs.

For example if an organization decides it needs to improve the Sales operation to grow revenues, the most common option is to purchase a CRM system to better manage customer data and automate selling processes. However if you examine any one particular business process you will see a 'swim lane' that not only cuts across different types of applications (CRM, ERP, ECM etc.), it also cuts across different organizations and even modes of work (document collaboration, CRM records updates etc).

In the case of sales automation it might be that the sales team needs faster proposal collaboration and better workflows for contract signings to make the most impact in their work, but these are functions from other applications rather than CRM. Typically this entire mix of apps is needed, but just a little from each at a time so to speak.

Therefore what they actually need is what Microsoft calls an "Application Platform", where a number of different applications are combined to offer a suite, that is then used in a more modular fashion, and which can be further tailored for vertical industries. For example their Citizen Service Platform packages a number of their enterprise applications (Dynamics, Sharepoint, Unified Communications etc.) towards this end for the public sector.

This is more of a "blended application" approach that is already common in the SaaS world, like Salesforce.com which offers a modular plug and play approach to building software solutions, extending a core CRM application through numerous add-in components. For example Cloud9 specializes in high-performance collaborative selling tools, and can pop right in to Salesforce as this diagram demonstrates.

Applying this same principle to the Microsoft suite and leveraging their 'xRM' development engine is very effectively discussed in this series of white papers from the Dynamics team at Microsoft.

In the 'Relational Productivity Applications' paper (19-page PDF) they introduce this new form of software being the blend of the structured and unstructured capabilities of Dynamics and Sharepoint combined. This fuses together the transactional data (e.g. the customer contact data) with the knowledge worker tools that salespeople use the most, and that better facilitates collaboration with their team mates.

It also describes xRM being combined in this mix. As a model-driven, business application framework it can enable developers to create and reuse these software services as modular components, further accelerating how quickly new apps can be created and deployed.

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