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KISS Your Cloud Integration Issues Away

How to simplify complex integration processes

Cloud computing's promise is becoming reality, but cloud integration is an ongoing challenge. As the use of cloud applications spreads throughout the enterprise, there's just no way to escape data exchange, change management, and related user issues. Why? The fact is, most top cloud and even enterprise software solutions require integration with other applications or data sources for optimal functionality and performance.

Whether corporate performance and business management, CRM, ERP, or operational and transactional data analysis, an enormous number of applications benefit from being interconnected to maximize business value.

Appnomic Systems and Adaptive Planning are dedicated to helping organizations make optimal use of data across various systems in our new "cloud" world. Together, these two companies have created a roadmap of best practices, integration lessons, and next-step recommendations to help businesses overcome three of their most common cloud integration challenges and simplify their application interconnectivity.

The Integration Challenge - Three Common Hurdles
Let's start by getting on the same page with a brief review of three killer integration challenges:

1. Data is messy.

  • It's often inconsistent.
  • It comes from disparate sources - on-premise, off-premise or in the cloud, from databases, different applications, various vendors, etc.
  • There are few common/standard APIs, ways to integrate or translate data.
  • Requirements differ by customer and by user, adding another layer of complexity.

2. Integrations require significant time and resources.

  • Extensive IT department and vendor support are often still required, particularly when there are changes in business processes, application performance, and data sources.
  • Implementations are excessively time-consuming.
  • Businesses try to integrate more than is required, particularly when buying into the promise of integrations for Cloud apps that will increase functionality.
  • It's tough to maintain integrations, particularly as systems, APIs, and workflows change.

3. Change seems virtually unmanageable.

  • It is often unclear whether the vendor or the business is responsible for maintaining integrations when business processes and data sources change.
  • One change in an attached system, a data format, a workflow, or the integration layer design itself can significantly harm the business.

The Solutions - A Business Guide to Simplifying Integrations
When integrating systems, business leaders have a plethora integration-related choices and decisions to make:

  • What are the characteristics of the best cloud integration partners?
  • Which technologies should businesses deploy?
  • Should businesses select software, SaaS, or outsourced solutions?
  • How can businesses solve technical problems without heavily relying on IT?

What can businesses start doing today to beat integration issues and run more efficient companies?

1. Partner with vendors that provide simple, manageable integration capabilities.
Before choosing a vendor, business leaders should ask themselves, and their prospective vendors, two questions:

  • Who is responsible for designing the backend integration infrastructure?
  • Who is responsible for maintaining that integration?

Best in class vendors will take responsibility for providing the integration solution. They will leverage relationships with top integration partners and platforms to deliver solution suites already pre-integrated on the backend. Other top vendors offer "Sustenance Services," meaning they bundle a certain number of software development hours into software purchases. When a client's environment changes, the client emails the vendor with a description of the changes and the required infrastructure changes are automatically addressed.

Businesses that partner with vendors offering integration solutions are giving their company three choices when it comes to maintaining integration standards - with the right resources:

  • Integration is easy enough for the business to handle without significant IT intervention.
  • Vendors can easily handle integration maintenance.
  • Partners can easily handle integration maintenance.

The choice is up to you, the business owner. The point is to give your business that flexibility.

2. Eliminate the complexity of a unified data source.
The end goal of integration is having a unified data source that pulls the most important data from all of your different storage points, giving you the most intuitive view of your entire business' performance. That means data must be:

  • Gathered from a wide variety of sources
  • Consolidated into a unified store
  • Equipped with a clean, singular, simple, and consistent user interface either through your app provider or your own Web interface

The problem? Unified data sources are inherently complicated. The good news? There are certain choices you can make during the solution selection process that will help to simply your unified data source down the road, depending on the type of solution(s) you choose to purchase.

Purchasing Best-in-Class Solutions
If you're purchasing best-in-class solutions from different vendors, remember that your business will change over time. Choose vendors offering integration tools that will allow you to independently manage and maintain your integration needs. Doing so ensures that you will be able to keep a constantly viable unified data store, even as your business changes.

Purchasing Pre-Integrated Solution Suites
Beware of solution suites from legacy providers that are said to be pre-integrated. Often these are point solutions cobbled together through various company acquisitions, meaning they were not initially intended to integrate with one another.

Instead, look for suites pre-built with back-end data integration. Choose a solution that leverages the back-end work to integrate data from different locations. These types of suites are unified data sources on their own.

No matter which route you choose, always ask vendors to demonstrate integration capabilities and/or offer a proof of concept for pre-integrated solutions.

3. KISS integration good-bye!
Don't Integrate
. If you don't need to do it, avoid the effort. If you've gone down the path and the program is getting increasingly complicated, stop. Take a break and review what is vitally important to your business. Be diligent and firm in managing necessary tasks, and leave the rest for later.

Apply the 80/20 rule. Figure out how to generate 80% of the value by focusing on the most important 20% of your work. One company was recently preparing to roll out new automation integration into testing for production. All sorts of "concerns" began cropping up, distracting the team and stalling the project for weeks. After discussing the 80/20 rule and addressing the real needs of the business, the client re-focused on the KISS principle of keeping things simple.

We recognize that integration is often necessary for companies that have made large investments in technology solutions. These companies want to maximize their investment. If you're one of these companies, you can make integration manageable, especially when reacting to changes in your business, by using the above criteria to choose the right vendor.

It's also important for vendors and business leaders to more aggressively push for open industry integration standards. Too many vendors are still motivated to retain proprietary solutions with low levels of interoperability. They're holding on to the hope that their technology will become a winning standard.

Organizations such as The Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA) are working to develop and propagate standards that serve buyers. The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) has been encouraging Cloud standards in various areas of the industry. The Software and Information Industries Association (SIIA) is another leading group that can make a difference. While working with standards groups takes time and effort, direct user engagement has a major impact on the amount of progress made around industry integration standards.

With today's industry integration standards being what they are, the best way to KISS your cloud integration challenges goodbye is to face your top hurdles head-on and give your business as many integration choices as possible.

More Stories By Ray Solnik

Ray Solnik is President of Appnomic Systems. As president of Appnomic Systems, he has P & L responsibility with a focus on business growth in North America. He brings to Appnomic twenty years of experience in cloud computing, managed network services, and data communications.

Prior to Appnomic, Ray was president and COO of OpSource, an early SaaS/IaaS provider, which was acquired and is now the core Cloud offering of Dimension Data - a $4 billion systems integrator. Ray has helped multiple next generation companies develop and drive strategies resulting in successful fundraising from top venture capital investors, including Gengo, PowerCloud Systems, and CrowdFlower.

Earlier in his career, Ray was chief development officer of New Edge Networks (acquired by EarthLink), and president of AT&T’s consumer Internet services business, AT&T WorldNet. He has a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. He lives in Silicon Valley.

More Stories By Robert S. Hull

Robert S. Hull is Founder and President of Adaptive Planning. He has over 20 years of executive and financial management experience and a solid track record of building market-leading venture-backed businesses and high performing teams. Drawing on his own experiences as CFO, Rob founded Adaptive Planning with a vision of providing CFOs with an easy to use SaaS-based solution for corporate performance management. He has significant experience both in leading corporate planning and reporting as CFO, and in contributing to the planning process as an operational manager.

Prior to founding Adaptive Planning, Rob served as CEO of ChemTracker and as CFO for a number of market-leading software companies, including LoopNet and Risk Management Solutions.He raised over $40M in equity and debt capital for his companies and has completed several successful M&A transactions. He has been an active part of SaaS-based companies for the past 10 years and is a frequent speaker on both corporate planning and SaaS. Prior to his financial management roles, Rob was a consultant for Booz, Allen & Hamilton.

Rob has a BA in Economics from Stanford University.

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Most Recent Comments
Brooke Beach 07/25/13 10:12:00 AM EDT

Great article - I completely agree when you said that "most top cloud and even enterprise software solutions require integration with other applications or data sources for optimal functionality and performance."

I run into this all the time - you can't get the most out of your investments if everything exists in silos. But too often developing, optimizing and maintaining integrations drains in-house resources.

Kevy (kevy.com) realized this issue and has built a platform that lets people integrate their cloud apps in less than 10min without writing even one line of code. Disclaimer - I work with Kevy but have seen over and over again the benefits our customers get from having automatically synced data across all of their cloud platforms.

This means that instead of having numerous, separate cloud investments, suddenly they get the benefits of using essentially one application that automates data exchange across all platforms. Big Data is suddenly manageable when integration is strong and, just like you said, it helps people 'KISS' integration issues good-bye.

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