A few years ago, the big questions in the world of technology were all about the cloud. Was it worth it and was it safe or was it all just the usual industry hype?
The jury is no longer out, and the cloud is now a mainstay of any decent IT strategy. But that does not mean that it is without its problems. As the market has matured, real-world business delivery has highlighted the importance of both data and application portability, and the inevitable need for interoperability across clouds.
The cloud has matured and now takes many forms, SaaS, PaaS and IaaS being the best known and most commonly deployed. Most organisations have embraced some if not all of these models, for the obvious benefits that they offer such as reduced costs, improved speed of deployment, greater business flexibility and an enhanced user experience. As a result, most technology landscapes include multiple clouds in a heterogenous environment to complement more traditional legacy systems.
With such a fragmented landscape effective systems management is critical. It is vital that the barriers to deployment are removed. The costs to adopt cloud technology should be advantageous, security must not be compromised and any business risks effectively managed.
There is another point to consider as well. Traditionally legacy software purchases consisted of an initial capital outlay supported by an annual service contract. However, most cloud solutions are service based, typically offered as a 3 or 5 year term agreement subject to renewal. Often vendors require the renewal to be signed in order to be profitable, so there is a large incentive to retain customers. The threat persists that if service is not good enough, then the customer will go elsewhere.
However, that threat is only valid, and the market can only operate effectively, if the customer does have a real choice. That is why interoperability and portability are so key to an effective market, since they facilitate that choice.
The UK Government in particular is very keen to support this digital agenda because of the obvious benefits that a cloud-driven industry can offer to the broader economy. Many initiatives have been put in place to promote innovation, start-ups and the whole UK technology ecosystem. In addition, having a more dynamic, cloud-driven industry provides an opportunity to challenge the perceived stranglehold of the large American technology corporations, that are often accused of stifling competition, reducing choice and limiting innovation.
There are short term solutions that can help to address some of these problems. A loosely coupled architecture will assist and the use of an integration hub can provide a good platform for management of all the interaction activity.
But for many organisations addressing this complexity is probably an unwelcome distraction, so it makes sense for the industry to solve this problem on their behalf.
Enter new industry standard ISO/IEC19941, which provides a common framework for understanding the different issues surrounding interoperability, data portability and application portability. It also addresses administrative interfaces, business integrations and security considerations.
So, to summarise, I would offer two suggestions and three areas of advice.
First, throw scepticism to the wind and fully embrace the cloud model. The majority of software vendors; including the traditional ERP heavyweights, are putting their investment dollars in only one direction. To ensure that systems will support you in a digital future, they must be cloud enabled.
Second, the legislative framework within which the cloud world is developing is still quite fluid. Take time to understand the emerging standards because they will provide guidance and surety to aid decision making.
And the advice? Well before signing any vendors cloud services agreement understand three key things.
How easy will it be to onboard a new system taking into account all of the issues about interoperability and portability?
Assume that the new system will only be one part of a broader heterogenous multi-vendor cloud environment. Are you really equipped to manage such a landscape? E.g. it is likely that different vendors will have different upgrade cycles, how will you address ongoing testing and maintenance.
How viable is it to change vendor at the end of the agreement period and not be ‘locked in’ against your will? A cautionary note here …. if you think that just having access to a copy of your data is ok, then think again!