Last month some good news emerged for the cloud-based B2B integration market, with an expected 31 percent yearly growth through 2018. However, that healthy increase may have many technology vendors jumping on the bandwagon in an attempt to take advantage of increased demand. In fact, a more recent report from Ovum expanded on the challenges associated with leveraging this technology.
One of the prominent issues that analysts discussed is the cloud washing trend. This happens when vendors re-brand their traditional solutions as cloud platforms when they don't actually deliver those solutions. Software purchasers can avoid investments in faux clouds by recognizing the defining attributes of cloud computing. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, these are:
- On-demand self-service
- Broad network access
- Resource pooling
- Rapid elasticity
- Measured service
Although cloud providers may attach any number of adjectives to their offerings, the above factors are essential for gaining the IT resource efficiency and flexibility commonly associated with the cloud. For example, the rapid elasticity refers to the ability to scale IT resources quickly - in many cases, this process can also be automated. Without that attribute, companies would be stuck with the same long deployment timeframes as they have with existing solutions.
Researchers also highlighted the complexity of B2B integration as a primary issue and condemned technology vendors for making it seem as though the cloud would make it a simple process. In reality, there are many issues surrounding integration that cannot be entirely simplified, and companies that underestimate the difficulty of these projects could face significant risk. Additionally, although integration-platform-as-a-service solutions offer value in the form of flexibility and faster time-to-deployment, these options may not be the best fit for all B2B integration initiatives.
""iPaaS is emerging as an alternative to traditional integration approaches, and several iPaaS solutions can now cater for the needs of SaaS, on-premise, and B2B integration, at least for integration projects with medium levels of complexity," said Ovum senior analyst Saurabh Sharma.
No integration 'silver bullet'
As Sharma's comments suggest, iPaaS may not be the best option for large-scale integration initiatives that have to connect many different moving parts and processes. For these types of tasks, traditional options such as the IBM sterling B2B integrator may be better suited for an organization's needs. These platforms provide more robust tools for data and process mapping so that key stakeholders have visibility over their entire network of partners and information. Although most solutions will provide some level of visibility, it is essential to understand the complexity of the organization's own integration environment to determine whether a particular option is the best fit.
For example, many organizations today work with business partners of many different sizes and with different levels of technical expertise. This diversity makes features such as highly customizable dashboards a key element of a good integration platform. By tailoring information access to individuals, it is easier to resolve problems quickly.
Just as enterprise interest in the hybrid cloud in general has increased, the best B2B integration approach may utilize a mixture of on-premise and cloud-based solutions. Ovum suggested this could expedite time-to-value while ensuring cost efficiency. However, adopting such a strategy presents its own challenges.
One issue that will likely emerge in a hybrid integration approach is the complexity of using multiple platforms to handle the task. Especially if the cloud platform lacks built-in interoperability with on-premise solutions, companies may struggle with ensuring consistency across both systems. This means that data accuracy and quality will suffer while the costs of storing and managing that will be more difficult to control.
In addition, the total cost of ownership of using any cloud solution depends on the readiness of the organization adopting it and the company's existing IT environment. For instance, many legacy applications were not built with the cloud in mind and do not take advantage of the technology's scalable architecture. This means that leveraging the technology would require more than simply migrating existing enterprise software.
Complex projects; Robust IT strategies
Regardless of which approach organizations use to satisfy their B2B integration needs, the fact remains that modern business ecosystems are complex. They consist of numerous and varied processes, diverse IT systems and partner networks that must be connected in a meaningful way. It may be tempting to look for solutions that simplify these projects, and this can be done to some extent. However, it is important that the drive for simplicity does not come at the expense of necessary functionality for orchestrating complex integration initiatives. In this case, organizations are better served by first assessing their needs as well as the operating environments of their partners. From there, IT decision makers can apply technical solutions in response to specific challenges and create a strategy that balances the need for functionality with the efficiency of streamlining the processes that can be strategically simplified.