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Integration Challenges among Cloud Applications

Posted by Joel Schipper on January 29, 2016


With grateful thanks for sparkling input from former Oracle colleagues Cindy Sayers, Mark Nix, and Leanne Harper.  This is an answer I provided in an Executive Forum discussion recently at ExecRank.com, as a follow-up to their Software and Internet Advisory Council meeting.

In short, it’s no different from on-premise software – the customer owns the integration problem. Software from different vendors do not usually share the same “Lego” blocks of integration, even when they have “open API’s” and “web services” enabled. Only when those services and API’s use the same infrastructure do you have a chance that the vendor has made a successful integration, and then, you need to consider whether that integration solves your particular needs.

In an integrated Cloud ERP suite, all the applications from that one vendor should be talking to each other, the same as with on-premise applications such as ERP. If you want to change those integrations, the vendor should offer integration tools and services you can use. If this is a Cloud suite, then you’ll like need a Platform as a Service (PaaS) platform that contains those tools. Recently I’ve begun hearing about “Integration as a Service” offerings that are intended to connect a vendor’s Cloud and on-premise applications, and even 3rd party applications that use the same integration technologies.

In the end, it will probably come down the customer who owns the integration. Simple or point-to-point integrations offered by vendors are usually not complete (that is, covering all the required integration points), or don’t move all the data a customer requires between the applications (only a subset of the data has been integrated), or it simply doesn’t work the way the customer wants it to work. So the customer will do it themselves, or hire consultants to write the integration.

Anytime you have multiple vendors, such as a Cloud situation where different applications come from different vendors, (or the same in an on-premise situation), vendor supplied integrations might work in a perfect world. But you still have the issues of different update schedules from different vendors and whether one vendor’s update is validated against every other vendor’s then current releases (and there are often several current releases that need to be maintained on integration from every vendor). The multi-to-multi puzzle is simply not going to be cost effective for any one vendor to maintain. Recently I noticed that my Quicken was no longer accepting certain types of downloads from banks, or importing certain file types.

And, if you did get the integration to work, you’d find you have a master data management problem: who owns the ‘real’ customer, vendor, item, or employee master file when multiple cloud (or on-premise) software products all contain their own version of one or more of those files? Again, more integration work, this time likely requiring “MDM” tools as well.

And beyond that, customizations and configurations in any of the cloud (or on-premise) solutions makes the integrations that much more challenging. Is one system’s “sales order” the same as another’s? After decades of EDI (electronic data interchange) it’s still a challenging world when one dominant vendor or company imposes their view of the world on everyone else, such as Wal-Mart did some years back, or the top tier automotive companies did on their entire supply chain.

In the end, if everyone is satisifed with one-size-fits-all “best practices” built into Cloud software, how does one company use technology to differentiate itself from another company? If the race to best practice is shortened and made easier, where is the competitive advantage? And how do you implement transformational technology into a Cloud delivery model that gives everyone the same software?

 

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