The speed, flexibility, and cost advantages of cloud computing are well understood, but companies will never fully realize those advantages if their software, infrastructure, and platform services exist in isolation from one another and from their legacy systems. Integration is critical as organizations look to optimize the more than $127 billion in annual public cloud investments that International Data Corporation forecasts they will make by 2018.
The benefits of seamless cloud integration boil down to helping enterprises accomplish six fundamental objectives:
1) Accelerate time to market. Call it what you will: business agility, nimbleness, or just the realization that customers, suppliers, and partners want access to your company’s latest products and services now, not when your IT organization gets around to delivering the supporting functionality.
Often it’s inhibited by the tools specific to a particular platform-as-service (PaaS) or infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offering from its multitude of vendors. Only a fully integrated cloud stack—IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS (software as a service)—is optimized for that speedy delivery. Business agility is of paramount importance to companies worldwide. In a recent Oracle survey of 2,263 companies, 81% of respondents said the ability to rapidly develop, test, and launch new business applications is either critically important or important to the success of their companies.
Conversely, when asked to identify the biggest threat to their companies, the largest percentage of respondents (27%) cited the ability of competitors to launch innovative customer services more rapidly than their companies could. Yet the survey results indicate that companies are overestimating their own agility. Significantly, the results reveal that companies aren’t leveraging the agility benefits delivered by PaaS in particular.
Nearly half (49%) of the companies surveyed either cannot, or do not know if they can, shift workloads among public, private, and hybrid clouds, as well as migrate on-premises applications to the cloud. And only half of them say they can develop, test, and deploy new business applications for use on mobile devices within six months; just 30% within one month. Only 32% of respondents even fully understand what PaaS is.
“PaaS offerings, such as the Oracle Cloud Platform, have the ability to deliver unprecedented levels of business agility,” says Oracle Group Vice President Robert Shimp. “The key now is to demonstrate to businesses just how easy it is to integrate this critical cloud platform into their IT architectures. Yes, the cost savings delivered by PaaS are important, but of greater importance is its ability to help businesses reduce application development timeframes and more easily tailor and integrate third-party software-as-a-service apps into their business, allowing them to more effectively address customer demand.”
2) Free IT resources to do more innovative, customer-focused work. The evolution of the CIO from the master of speeds, feeds, and system uptime to a more strategic, customer-engaging, revenue-generating role has been ongoing for decades. But the Internet of Things, new “collaborative economy” business models, and the rise of supporting cloud, mobile, social, and data analytics technologies will disrupt industries like never before, notes Oracle CIO Mark Sunday.
So it’s imperative that CIOs and their IT organizations move beyond spending most of their precious time fussing with middleware and other operational tasks. IT leaders need cloud applications and infrastructure that work together seamlessly so they can focus on what matters most: building competitive advantage for their companies.
3) Improve and automate business processes via the sharing of data across applications. Sales reps need a system that ensures the sales management applications they use also capture data about prospects calling into the company contact center. Procurement systems must share data with e-commerce systems, and HR recruiting systems with social networks.
One problem with sales, marketing, customer service, finance, HR, and myriad other departments buying cloud services piecemeal is that they “end up finding out that whenever they need integration between those applications, they’re stuck,” says Inderjeet Singh, Oracle executive vice president of Fusion Middleware Management. “Who’s going to provide the single sign-on across 200 different cloud applications? Who is going to provide data integration between the applications?”
In a B2B context, if you make it difficult for customers or partners to access your order-entry or inventory systems, they’ll take their business elsewhere. Meantime, manufacturers need cloud-based data integration with the systems of a variety of suppliers and partners—design, engineering, components, logistics, distribution, warehousing, transport—to minimize inventories while ensuring timely availability of goods.
Consider one example. A company with a cloud-based sales management (CRM) system decides to start selling through a network of distributors and partners rather than direct to consumers. Instead of having to buy a new CRM system, the customer can build the incremental partner management functionality on its PaaS. But it will succeed only if it has seamless, real-time access to data in some of its other cloud and on-premises applications. Especially when a company builds cloud applications on the same PaaS, it can integrate and extend them without having to hire skill sets specific to every different application in the portfolio.
4) Extend investments in legacy systems and applications. Tight integration between cloud and on-premises applications is also critical, so that companies can extend the life of their legacy systems and tap into those rich data stores. Ripping out and replacing legacy systems isn’t only expensive, but it’s also disruptive, as they’re woven into so many different processes and systems.
5) Scale up and down more easily. One of the biggest benefits of cloud software and infrastructure services is that companies can buy as much or as little as they need at a given point in time. There’s no need to over-provision for spikes in customer/user demand. Same goes for the integration of those cloud services: Customers can quickly increase or decrease connections as business conditions dictate, as long as those cloud applications and infrastructure are built to industry standards—with integration in mind from the get-go.
6) Reduce costs. “Most of the cost of enterprise software lies in operations–the people and effort it takes to keep the software running,” notes Oracle’s Singh. The tighter the integration at each layer of the cloud stack, the less need for specialized middleware and the expensive talent to manage it, thus the lower the total cost of ownership.
By Rob Preston