The Beginner's Guide to Cloud Integration and the Benefits for Your Company

Smartsheet Contributor Kate Eby on Oct 23, 2018

Moving your information to a cloud platform provides improved usability, immediate availability, and real-time information for those who need it most. You’ll also give your employees the ability to easily, quickly, and remotely access and exchange information. In fact, this ability will determine the future of your business and customer relationships. In this article, we give you everything you need to know about cloud integration, including key terms, benefits and challenges, integration strategies, architecture, and vendors. We also discuss how to implement cloud integration, what factors to consider when moving to a cloud platform, how to protect your data during cloud integration, and how to select the right cloud integration solution for your company.


What Is Cloud Integration?

Cloud integration is the process of configuring applications, procedures, service- oriented architecture (SOA), and programs to address and share data in the cloud, all with the goal of improved functional connectivity. There are various ways to achieve cloud integration, including hybrid options that combine on-premises systems with cloud solutions in order to improve information management.

Many companies host on-premises applications, business-to-business (B2B) models, or technologies that live within the organizational infrastructure. By combining on-premises applications with cloud service options, cloud integration has revolutionized the business landscape, offering companies new opportunities to connect systems and combine data.

Jacob Ackerman, Chief Technology Officer for SkyLink Data Centers, says, “Hybrid cloud is a mix of two or more solutions, including on-premises, co-location, public cloud, and private cloud. You’re simply combining one or more solutions with the goal of providing the most cost- effective, flexible, and scalable environment for each workload. Just like a hybrid car combines two different complementary technologies, hybrid cloud does the same.”

Companies can choose to integrate information with their software by using either a third party that provides cloud services or in-house staff members with integration knowledge. Either approach can work for companies that implement software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools. Because of the rapidly increasing popularity of SaaS, the use of cloud integration has exploded as well.

According to recent data from the International Data Corporation (IDC), global revenue in the SaaS industry topped $43 billion in the first half of 2017, representing a yearly increase of 23 percent. With this growth, SaaS now makes up nearly 70 percent of the overall cloud market. Experts predict further dramatic increases.

 

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What Is iPaaS?

iPaaS, or integration platform as a service, is a series of solutions and processes that integrate data in environments ranging from on-premises applications to cloud services. Companies often utilize iPaaS in large B2B processes by creating a map for integration and data flow. 

 

How Does Cloud Integration Work?

Cloud integration utilizes the internet or a network system to provide the real-time exchange of data and processes. It connects an organization’s applications, software, and systems in order to manage its work and create a more seamless, accessible data management structure.

Before the cloud became an option, a company could integrate systems in one of two ways: internally or via B2B. Both methods of integration required a variety of hardware to create a data exchange system. B2B utilized electronic data interchange (EDI) gateways or value-added networks (VANs) to allow electronic data movement. Companies managed internal integration through on-premises platforms. But with the advent of SaaS and its accompanying challenges (data transformation, security, and orchestration), organizations needed a faster, more convenient strategy. As a result, cloud integration has become a popular solution.

 

Why Sharing Data via Cloud Integration Is Crucial

Cloud integration provides a new perspective on sharing data. The technology creates opportunities to run your business more efficiently and effectively. If you already operate in the cloud or use the functionality of cloud platforms, your company’s ability to adapt to a changing environment increases significantly. Here are a number of areas in which sharing data via cloud integration can improve your work, including sales, customer engagement, and e-commerce:

  • Cloud integration ensures that a sales management system has the capability of capturing current or potential clients through a company’s call center or website.
  • Procurement systems can easily share information with e-commerce systems.
  • HR recruiting systems can work in sync with social networks to engage potential hires.
  • Manufacturing is moving to the cloud because the industry needs to be able to integrate with systems that interact with suppliers and partners — who together map the path from start to finish of supply chain management. By allowing all supply chain systems to communicate, cloud integration helps manufacturers save time and reduce the amount of inventory mistakes.
  • If a company with a cloud-based sales management system decides to change its sales model and customer base, it can utilize the functionality of its existing platform as a service (PaaS). For more information on customer dashboards, check out this article: “Customer Dashboards: CRM, Customer Service, Success, and More.”

Types and Methods of Cloud Integration

Various types of cloud integration are available: Cloud-to-cloud integration (C2I) brings together solo-operating cloud systems, and cloud-to-on-premises integration incorporates on-premises applications through the use of a cloud service. If a company has multiple platforms, it may need to connect these disparate systems to accommodate its infrastructure and data.

Method-wise, a range of choices address cloud integration of infrastructure. In 2015, the International Journal of Automation and Computing conducted research into the various methods. Their findings are summarized below:

  • Migration to PaaS: This method coincides with infrastructure as a service (IaaS), where the original system is moved to the cloud in its platform format and similar function for use.
  • Migration to IaaS: This method takes components of the historical system and migrates it to the cloud for operations.
  • Migration to SaaS: This method offers various options by reengineering legacy systems, modifying some areas using existing cloud services, or moving to a commercial cloud service.

 


What Are Cloud Integration Services?

For an efficient move to the cloud, some companies may require the outside expertise of a cloud integration service. Companies such as IBM, Oracle, Amazon AWS, and Microsoft Azure all provide integration services. These services may include cloud-platform hosting, technical assistance with integration, encryption, and basic software and data support.


What Is a Cloud Integration Platform?

A cloud integration platform is a virtual location where noncloud or on-premises software and tools can integrate with the cloud. Think of the PaaS that provides direct and reliable connection to make such integration possible.

 

What Is Hybrid Cloud Integration?

Hybrid cloud integration, also known as cloud-to-on-premises integration, incorporates on-premises applications or software through the use of a cloud service.

 

Why Use Cloud Integration?

Every day, more companies move to the cloud in order to stay technologically competitive — particularly when their current processes keep them from remaining up to date in areas such as law and compliance. As methods of integration have become increasingly progressive, more businesses operate with hybrid integration of SaaS and on-premises applications.

Jimmy Carroll, Partner and Director of Global Sales at TetraVX, notes who should consider the move: “First and foremost, cloud services assist in streamlining internal IT operations and improving operational efficiency, so organizations that are in need of those two things will greatly benefit from a move to the cloud. Other types of organizations that should consider the move include those with an aging infrastructure and those who lack the necessary IT staff and budget to deploy and manage on-premises UCC [uniform commercial code] systems.”

Cloud integration can provide many new opportunities for your business: It can break down silos, improve visibility and connectivity, and optimize business processes. It allows you to share data in a multitude of ways, provide better data analytics, and be mobile friendly. And it enables you to easily connect to the Internet of Things (IoT), the demand for which has soared.

Companies are rapidly moving toward and investing in the cloud environment. Forbes comments on IDC projections: “Cloud computing spending is growing at 4.5 times the rate of IT spending since 2009 and is expected to grow at better than 6 times the rate of IT spending from 2015 through 2020. According to IDC, worldwide spending on public cloud computing will increase from $67B in 2015 to $162B in 2020, attaining a 19 percent CAGR.”

The Benefits of Cloud Integration

Why should you consider the cloud? The benefits are sizable:

  • Real-time access to personal data from any device in any location with an internet connection
  • The integration of personal data, such as calendars and contact lists, on various devices
  • The use of the same login information for all personal applications
  • Increased data integrity and decreased data redundancy
  • Scalability to allow for future expansion of business needs
  • Flexibility
  • Improved operational efficiency
  • Faster time to market
  • Increased internal communications
  • Improved customer service, support, and retention
  • Increased competitive edge
  • Reduced operational costs and increased revenue through new platforms and sources like subscriptions
  • Self-managing platforms
  • Less or no need for hardware or software to build connections
  • Increased security through real-time data management that doesn’t require firewall or other security measures
  • Ease of use for developers and customer service teams that create, deploy, and maintain integrations
  • Readily available tools that respond quickly
  • A simplified management platform for collaboration, documentation, and future needs

Companies That Have Successfully Achieved Cloud Integration

Numerous companies, large and small, have successfully migrated to the cloud. For example, the insurance company The Hartford improved access and usability by using a cloud platform to give customers real-time information. Ahold Delhaize, a global food retailer, used integration to examine the impact of weather on retail sales. Pearson Education used cloud service platforms to provide online education to individuals worldwide. Industrial and marine supply specialist Bell and Company used its cloud service to offer a broader picture of its successes and challenges.

The following companies have also made the transition to the cloud:

  • Dell (Dell Boomi)
  • Enstoa
  • IBM
  • Liaison Alloy Platform
  • Mulesoft
  • Oracle
  • SAP
  • Tibco Software

In addition, these companies are currently providing cloud migration software, data integration software, e-commerce data integration software, or ESB (enterprise service bus) services:

  • Cloud Migration Software: Carbonite, PieSync, Salesforce Platform, Scribe Online Lotus Notes, and StarfishETL
  • Data Integration Software: Information Builders, Microsoft Azure Pentaho, SnapLogic, and Talend
  • E-Commerce Data Integration Software: Adeptia, Bedrock, Celigo, E2E Bridge, and Scribe
  • ESB Services: Apache, IBM, Microsoft Azure, Neuron, and Tibco

The Disadvantages and Challenges of Cloud Integration

Even with all the positive aspects of this technology, you still have to consider a number of obstacles before moving to the cloud. However, you can generally overcome these barriers if you address them early on. Here is a list of the disadvantages and challenges concerning cloud integration:

  • Based on a business’s current and future needs, cloud implementation can present obstacles to implementing SaaS and other web-based applications.
  • When you use cloud computing models such as PaaS and IaaS, you are moving data and processes outside the firewall and into the cloud for safekeeping.
  • In a survey conducted by MuleSoft and THINKstrategies, nearly 90 percent of respondents said integration with existing systems is a "common" or "very common" hurdle.
  • A Teradata survey showed 32 percent of respondents don’t trust cloud services on such issues as security breaches and storage.
  • The same Teradata survey found that 50 percent of technology leaders still cite security as a concern.

 


Cloud Integration Increases Business Performance

Business performance is at the forefront of management discussions. With cloud services and integration, you can monitor and track information to accurately assess performance.

Ackerman of SkyLink Data Centers says that both private and public cloud options offer a variety of pros and cons — for example, factors like company size may affect your choice. However, each offers unique and essential functions for your company’s work.

Cloud integration presents a primary advantage: an accelerated timeline to implementing a product or business function. This could be for your customers or for staff and partners that work within the chain of your business processes to get automated, real-time updates. Cloud integration can cut down on costs for your business through the elimination of middleware, which frees up more money to spend on improvements elsewhere.

In addition, you can extend the life of legacy systems with integration and assess which new investments will help your business become a more personalized and competitive organization. This scalability allows you to consider what systems and processes can be a strategic advantage.

 

Strategies for Seamless Cloud Integration from Cloud Integration Experts

Moving to the cloud requires planning and expertise. A seamless transition is critical for data integrity and business processes. Prebuilt integration offers companies a platform to get started right away — this is a great option because it includes common data management and business practices. Taking recommendations on platforms and services is always important, especially within your industry. As you consult with peers, leaders, and other decisions makers, ask about the pros and cons of certain services and how they may provide you with a better outcome in integration.

Ackerman recommends thinking broadly when choosing a solution. “I’ve seen many companies make a blanket decision to move everything to the cloud, only to backtrack later into a hybrid solution,” he says. “Find a partner you can trust to help you sift through all of the marketing and sales jargon so that you make the right choice the first time around.”

Another best practice: Engaging the end users. Know what works best for them, so you can identify which services will be most important and how to personalize the interface for easy adoption. Additionally, involve subject matter experts in the planning process to help mitigate unforeseen complications. These experts may be able to support you in understanding the needs of your business, compliance and security considerations, and customization options.

Jimmy Carroll, Partner and Director at TetraVX, offers three questions to ask yourself when deciding if the cloud is right for you:

  1. Do you know what your plan/roadmap is? By having a clear idea of where a business is headed, IT managers can determine what cloud features and functionalities are appropriate for the organization.
  2. Do you know your network? Before jumping into cloud migration, companies should first evaluate their network’s readiness for the cloud.
  3. Do you know your employees? Prior to migration, consult with your employees to determine what tools they need to perform their job better and whether a cloud-based solution will address common pain points.

Who Needs Cloud Integration?

Companies that use SaaS tools (including on-premise applications) as a primary source for data management and analytics could greatly benefit from moving to the cloud. These companies are limited by their systems’ infrastructure, which further restricts their ability to use data flexibly. Additionally, cloud services might benefit companies experiencing gaps in data management, ownership, and security.

How to Choose the Right Cloud Integration Solution for Your Company

What type of sensitive data do you have, and is it protected? Are there opportunities for new business in your future? Do you have the right staff to manage upcoming technologies? These are just a few of the questions you need to consider when choosing a solution and services for your cloud integration project.

 

Questions to Ask Before Hiring or Engaging a Cloud Service Provider

Although a cloud service provider can support you in addressing the bottom line, understanding your business needs is a crucial step in hiring or engaging a cloud service provider. Know the needs of your staff, customers, and stakeholders; at the same time, look to the future of your business. Here are some areas you need to review in meeting these needs:

  • Management for the systems is visible, convenient, and accessible. The cloud integration service should include monitoring capabilities that offer visibility and control over information flows. It should also offer performance monitoring that may be lacking in your current SaaS applications, which are dependent on the provider for updates and maintenance.
  • The security systems and processes for keeping your information safe are adequate. With cloud-based technologies, security is always a concern. The service you consider should be capable of managing user access, including authentication and authorization. It should also have encryption and data storage that comply with your data regulations. With the amount of access points to data, the service must provide a secure means of connecting the cloud to the enterprise (app or software) without compromising your firewalls. It should allow you to be GDPR compliant.
  • The service offers flexibility and scalability. The solution should support a variety of integration types and methods, including comprehensive integration capabilities. It must also provide opportunity to grow, mold, and change those services as your business grows.
  • The service offers an open platform. Using an integration service should allow enterprises to freely choose and manage the IT solutions that best fit their needs. The service you choose should provide open platforms that allow your company to easily migrate on or off the platform, as well as integrate their applications and data without noticing changes. Additionally, it should offer you the ability to move to a new platform that may be more suitable for your needs.
  • It offers a smarter way to connect your business. The service provider should be able to create personalized, interactive customer experiences and engage with the customer’s evolving demands. It should also support and recognize the need to make adjustments to market shifts, allowing for a holistic view of your organization.

How to Protect Your Data Using Cloud Integration

Protecting your information and putting in place the mechanisms for security are crucial. Back up your data, and understand redundancies when dealing with sensitive information. Additionally, find ways to store sensitive information safely and within compliance, and limit user access to those who need it. Review your information regularly to minimize redundancies and extraneous copies. Use encryption services to add another layer of safeguards to your data, and deploy virus protection. Train your staff on building strong passwords; multi-authentication is also an option. And of course, test your systems regularly to find failures, bugs, or breaks in security.

 


Additional Cloud Integration Resources

Cloud integration expertise is growing and becoming more available to all industries. Below is a list of resource options to consult as you search and review cloud integration for your business.


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