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Cloud computing: What CIOs need to know about integration

Kim S. Nash | May 18, 2010
There are no standards for integrating cloud computing systems

PDS Tech uses Salesforce.com, Taleo's staff recruiting and tracking software, and Journyx's Timesheet package, which lets PDS Tech contractors submit their work hours and expense reports online. The company uses the Lawson S3 payroll, invoicing and financials suite, which it runs on its own servers, to orchestrate data hand-offs between systems.

Each vendor has tools to connect its software to other packages, Hahn says, but this combination of vendors didn't have pre-existing tools to support each other. The vendors offered to build interfaces, but Hahn said no. He used the vendors' integration tools, but had his staff do the work because, he explains, they know their company's business processes better than the software and service vendors do.

Hahn switched to SaaS to save money as the economy soured, and he found immediate support from senior executives. The company has since saved $600,000 to $700,000 per year on infrastructure, upgrades and staff costs, he says. "We're a $345 million revenue company. That's enough [savings] to get eyebrows raised."

Making the in-house Lawson suite the clearinghouse for data integration, with the off-site systems acting as spokes that send data to that hub, decreases the chances that data will get out of sync, he says. It's clear which system has the most current, authoritative data.

In Shorenstein's set-up, where BizTalk will be the orchestrator, CIO Appley says that having only one version of the truth has always been important to making decisions driven by data. But because cloud computing requires so much control be relinquished to vendors, keeping data in sync is a bigger challenge. "Make sure you have a strategy," he cautions.

The Network Factor

Eventually, cloud vendors will develop or buy tools--whether or not they're based on open standards--so their customers can integrate whatever they want, predicts Ken Harris, CIO of Shaklee, a consumer products company. It's vital to any cloud vendor's future prosperity, Harris points out. "They don't have an effective business model if they can't rapidly and conveniently connect" with customers' on-premise systems.

Shaklee runs several SaaS applications, including a data warehouse, a CRM system, an address-verification service and a Web marketing package. Integration of some of these systems has meant using third-party tools. For example, Shaklee uses PivotLink, a business intelligence and data warehousing tool, to collect data from internal databases as well as from such applications as order entry and inventory.

"I'd have to integrate them even if they were internal," Harris notes. The difference with cloud-based technologies, he continues, is that locating systems off-site adds a network reliability component. When you want several applications to make smooth data hand-offs, a lot depends on having the networks they use remain up with plenty of capacity. That's something CIOs lose some control over when they contract with cloud vendors, he says.

 

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