By John Soat
Software as a service is widely known for its ease of deployment. Less understood is the integration rat's nest that can result when many SaaS applications are introduced within a company without a cohesive strategy.
Dain Hansen, director of integration product marketing for Oracle, says problems result when organizations bring in various cloud apps without a well-planned strategy that also takes into account on-premise software and systems.
"It's just so hard to get things to talk together," says Hansen.
SaaS offerings have become very popular because they can be implemented quickly and easily by business units and individual users. Yet, because some of that implementation is outside the purview of IT organizations and others are simply stand-alone, it has led to a proliferation of online technology assets that are isolated from on-premise systems, unable to tap into valuable data stores or other sources of business expertise.
That isolation restricts enterprise functionality, productivity, and return on investment. So, while SaaS use is increasing, the greatest potential benefits may lag behind. "People have been more successful in getting SaaS on board, but not as capable of getting the benefits from SaaS," says Hansen.
The problem is effective integration—certainly not a new one for IT, but the cloud adds a new twist. "Cloud integration is a much more complex beast," says Hansen.
Connecting cloud apps with on-premise systems, as well as with other, disparate online apps, can be complicated by many factors, including standards and protocols, gateways and firewalls, issues with multi-tenancy, and especially the need for security.
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An effective answer to these challenges is service-oriented architecture (SOA). The tools and best practices represented by SOA evolved from the need for flexibility and agility in connecting enterprise applications. As such, SOA obviated old-fashioned point-to-point integration methods by establishing standard interfaces and reusable components within an application framework, facilitating communication and development.
In today's hybrid computing environments—which must incorporate public and private clouds, on-premises systems and apps, and mobile devices—SOA's standards-based capabilities can tie it all together. SaaS must coexist among these disparate but interconnected systems and services.
"SOA is a good toolbox that any organization should have available when they go to the cloud," Hansen says. "Otherwise they set themselves up for point-to-point integration."
The rise of SaaS has been, at least in part, a bypass of old-style IT processes, as LOB managers got what they needed from on-demand service providers. Yet, if the cloud marginalized IT in this way, the need for cloud integration is making IT relevant again. Organizations are realizing that IT governance is important to get various technology assets, internal and external, to work together in a productive way.
"What's really happening is that [IT] got bypassed initially, but now they're getting brought back in," Hansen points out.
There are three important elements of SOA strategy: executive buy-in, a center of excellence, and alignment with business objectives. All three help serve the cloud integration imperative.
Executive buy-in helps ensure that IT is involved in SaaS deployments, signing off on service level agreements and security policies. A center of excellence can provide the disciplined oversight needed to rationalize cloud services within an organization's enterprise architecture, facilitating integration. By aligning the integration strategy with business objectives, the fruits of SaaS acquisitions are made available to more areas of the enterprise, increasing productivity and ROI.
An ancillary set of tools and practices is business process management. A BPM suite combined with SOA helps optimize the processes around application development and deployment. In a hybrid environment, that process optimization can help establish efficient workflows and decision making related to cloud services and enterprise integration.
The rapid rise of mobility, big data, fast data, and the Internet of Things (IoT) makes SOA and BPM even more urgent. This also represents a quantum leap in integration complexity. "A whole new level of support is needed to take on these other channels," Hansen asserts.
In an interesting twist, the cloud itself may be part of the solution. Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings are becoming available that will help with integration, as well as with securing transactions, accessing data, and enabling enterprise mobility.
The cloud's value proposition is as exciting as ever: speed, agility, ease of use. But be careful what you wish for because a dozen cloud apps deployed at the whim of business users without a central strategy will ultimately require some serious untangling.