There has been a significant amount of buzz regarding cloud-based b2b integration in recent months, particularly in light of reports that identified confusion regarding the technology's capabilities. Part of the difficulty in achieving success in the cloud is moving away from the perception that the platform is a one-size-fits-all solution when the reality is that there are many different types of services and even varied delivery models. In other words, organizations considering a cloud-based approach to any problem should first formulate an IT strategy that addresses risks, opportunities and potential adoption barriers.
Cloud: The final frontier
Organizations within the U.S. government have become uniquely aware of the challenges that can be created by a rushed deployment. The federal "Cloud First" initiative mandates that agencies consider cloud solutions before alternative options. This has led to some innovation in the cloud computing arena, but it has also led to a few gaps in risk management protocols. For example, NASA was recently chastised by its own Office of Audits for failing to create a fully effective cloud strategy. Auditors noted several issues in particular:
- Data was migrated to public cloud storage without CIO oversight
- The agency lacked an organization-wide IT strategy for adopting cloud services
- Cloud contracts fell short of meeting FedRAMP guidelines
- The agency lacked a method of measuring service provider performance
All of these issues contribute to a significant amount of unnecessary risk, and it's important to realize that NASA is not new to the platform. As the report noted, the agency was a pioneer in private cloud technology and made significant contributions to the growth of OpenStack. The organization may have been a victim of its own cloud-fueled momentum, but the incident ultimately serves as a reminder that even veterans of the technology need to take time and evaluate their processes and tools for managing IT solutions.
A strategy for b2b integration in the cloud
Unfortunately, there is not a single piece of advice that can govern and guarantee success for all cloud initiatives. However, there are a few considerations that can minimize risk and better equip organizations to reap the rewards of a successful cloud deployment.
The first issue to address, according to Liaison Technologies vice president Rob Fox, is to ensure all the components of integration are covered. At the same time, it is important for IT and business leaders to understand these elements cannot be treated separately, as the effectiveness of one area will impact others.
"In the majority of cases, businesses making the move to the cloud will require the services of an array of providers, combined with traditional on-premise application-to-application (A2A) and business-to-business (B2B) systems," Fox wrote. "As such, there is an increasing need to adopt integration strategies that support a multitude of complex integrations: A2A, B2B, on-premise enterprise applications to SaaS/cloud applications, and cloud-to-cloud (C2C)."
This is likely one of the reasons that cloud integration projects can become unexpectedly complex. As organizations adopt solutions from numerous providers, it becomes more difficult to maintain visibility over all of these services. Despite these challenges, Fox argued that cloud-based platforms offer "tremendous efficiencies" regardless of whether they're employed internally or used for b2b integration projects. He also outlined three major factors that should inform an organization's strategy for managing its cloud deployments:
- Is integration a core competency?
- Should integration be an operational or capital expense?
- What are the time-to-deployment expectations?
Answering questions like these will determine whether an organization should invest in building an internal team to manage its own cloud or utilize managed services. For instance, those lacking in integration expertise may find it beneficial to leverage the knowledge of third-party IT services to handle implementation and management. It is also important to remember that building a cloud management team will prolong time-to-deployment due to the number of disciplines that need to come together.
Finally, as the incident with NASA has illustrated, the cloud is not something that can be deployed and forgotten. Even with a considerable amount of cloud expertise at the agency's disposal, problems emerged from a management perspective. As a result, it is important to regularly review existing IT strategies to maintain visibility over cloud deployments regardless of how many are currently in operation. Regardless of which path to the cloud an organization chooses, it is essential to establish clear expectations from the beginning and that there are tools in place to monitor how well the service provider is meeting any contract agreements.
"As the key criteria and requirements around data management continue to expand, cloud integration will play an important role," Fox wrote. "It is critical that CIOs and their organizations develop a comprehensive and proactive integration strategy that efficiently and consistently scales to the evolving hybrid integration needs of the business."
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