Whether you are facing a push to globalize your organization, or simply need to cut costs and improve revenues from existing customers, cloud computing is the surest, fastest and most reliable way to achieve the levels of seamless data interoperability required to stay competitive. On-premise software, however global its reach, is ultimately defined by the siloed processes and walled-off data storage practices that defined their earliest versions. Cloud computing systems, on the other hand, were developed with the clear objective of extending business processes, safely yet powerfully, beyond departmental gatekeepers and institutional firewalls, past political arguments and internecine struggles for control over data and reporting. Put simply, cloud computing does not simply enable superior data interoperability-it enforces portability and interoperability.
Cloud computing solutions demand that departments align to a common backbone, with a single view of customer data and an unobstructed version of the truth. When the time comes to integrate new ventures, new trading partners or new markets, data standardization questions have already been answered. Too many companies fall into a trap spending months, or years, debating whether their ERP or CRM solutions should be used as the master system for interoperability needs. The end result is often a compromise on a new data warehousing solution, leading to further delays.
Extensible cloud platforms eliminate the need for these torturous discussions and costly systems work. The hard work of establishing a common data structure and ensuring ongoing data interoperability has already been done, saving considerable time and money and freeing companies to focus on results rather than infrastructure. Maintaining the balance between rock-solid security, and authenticated access outside the corporate firewall, is managed 24/7 by dedicated professionals.
Data interoperability in the cloud provides immediate benefit even to companies with no near-term expansion needs. In uncertain economic conditions, firms need to reduce costs and improve revenue from existing sources. Achieving those results intelligently-without cutting too deeply in vital areas, or over-saturating a customer segment to the point of exhaustion and alienation-requires detailed, holistic understanding of the impact of every dollar spent and collected. That is why BI solutions have been of such keen interest even in the smallest market segments. It is becoming increasingly difficult to successfully operate a company of any size without a comprehensive view of each process.
Consider the deceptively simple notion of measuring customer profitability. Discovering the true value and profitability of a customer is virtually impossible in an environment where a customer may be represented by four different, unrelated records-one in the purchasing system, one in shipping, one in customer support and yet another in marketing. A customer with a strong recent buying history may seem to be valuable and worth cultivating further. But what if those products were all loss-making? What if the customer has overwhelmed the customer service department with complaints? These questions cannot be answered without a complete, comprehensive view of the business relationship with that customer, and moving to the cloud delivers those tightly integrated views. Attempting to cobble them together between disparate on-premise systems can lead to multi-year, multimillion-dollar integration projects. Cloud solutions deliver them as a matter of course.
Another interoperability challenge for every company is that of role-based access controls. Most modern applications offer responsible, defined access controls to users directly logged in to that particular program. But as data becomes shared and extended, the lines of permissible access can become blurry. Access controls which were defined by one department may not be relevant or even enforceable in another department. Cloud applications provide integrated, overarching role definitions that apply to all layers of access, ensuring that relevant data remains available to all authorized users while minimizing the risks of over-exposure.
Multinational companies reap additional interoperability benefits from cloud applications. International expansion puts organizations at even greater risk of accumulating a heterogeneous, incompatible array of enterprise applications because popular on-premise software solutions vary wildly on a country-by-country basis. This means well-meaning but misguided local IT staff or system integrators choosing the "local favorite" often saddle expanding companies with wildly different accounting, CRM, and customer service applications in each new territory. These provincial applications may work well enough to support local operations, but when it comes time to achieve true strategic objectives, such as real-time analysis of international operations and seamless allocation of resources across the entire organization, data incompatibilities will be a tremendous problem.
Because cloud applications are built on newer, more flexible infrastructures, it is far easier to localize them both to regional language and business process requirements. New translations and country-specific business processes can also be deployed painlessly to different markets, without the need to upgrade individual desktops and servers. More importantly to the information management professional, new product and service lines in emerging territories will be subject to the same data structures as the rest of the company, preventing the spread of pockets of data with no clear relationship to the overall company's operations.
There is a common misconception that cloud solutions marginalize or eliminate the voice of internal IT professionals. This is not so. What the cloud does is transform the role of IT. Instead of acting as system caretakers and being forced to juggle the different and often conflicting demands of different departments and disparate on-premise applications, a cloud organization's IT professionals instead are free to facilitate and innovate new business processes. With application availability and data integrity a given, internal experts can develop the value-added services and interfaces that create insight and opportunities.
That said, ultimately data interoperability succeeds not as a technological accomplishment, but as an executive mandate. Only sponsorship and buy-in at the highest levels of the organization can drive the changes needed to migrate processes and data to a truly interoperable cloud solution.
True data interoperability has eluded many companies for decades. Not out of malice or a lack of will or interest, but simply because until the cloud computing revolution, integration and interoperability were so brutally painful to achieve. A major network equipment manufacturer made that painfully clear when it abandoned its preferred on-premise provider's CRM system for the cloud after a grueling five-year integration effort failed to launch. Fortunately, the technology and processes now exist to bypass the hair-pulling debates and brute-force, ill-fitting marriages of unrelated on-premise applications. The cloud revolution has come, and is the rational, superior choice for the accurate, unimpeded data access today's companies need to survive.
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