Cloud-to-Cloud Integration - Another Big ERP Challenge!

NetSuite's new Open Connect integration should make ERP buyers and vendors re-think interfaces and integration across application suites. Everyone needs to re-think what cloud-to-cloud integration, in multi-tenant apps, really means.

If Your ERP Provider can't to multi-tenancy, How can they do this????

This week’s been interesting so far. SAP announced earnings this week and the figures aren’t a cause for celebration. In contrast, NetSuite’s OpenAir group has been conducting their annual user conference in Boston with a pretty good-sized crowd of attendees. The company’s leaders have made a couple of big announcements at the show but one of these announcements has some subtleties that should really rattle old school, on-premise ERP vendors.

OpenAir announced their Open Connect capability. Essentially, this permits their SRP (services resource planning) solution to connect, out of the box, with solutions from Salesforce.com, NetSuite, SAP and Oracle. So what, you may ask. Isn’t that what modern platform products (i.e., products built upon services oriented architectures (SOA)) are supposed to do? Yes, but in this case, the delivery models they are connecting to are both on-premise and cloud based. Also, some of these connections will be to products that are multi-tenant (and hence changing/updating/improving daily) while others are not. Open Connect, therefore, must provide not only 1-time integration between two systems at the time of systems implementation but also continuous integration between systems that get continual updates.

Let’s look at this further. Some of the connections NetSuite is now making are cloud solutions (e.g., Salesforce.com, NetSuite or OpenAir products) connecting to on-premise products. That’s a bit more challenging than the old-fashioned integration of two on-premise applications together. Those static ‘interfaces’ were gold to systems integrators. Those ‘interfaces’ consumed a lot of implementation time and, once set and tested, were hoped to last the life of the application. They rarely did as one application or another would get an upgrade that changed the interface needs.

Those interfaces were expensive to do and subjected a company to a lot of risk if they didn’t perform perfectly. These interfaces are probably the number one reason a lot of companies do not apply upgrades, new releases and enhanced functions of older on-premise products. These product enhancements are too costly to implement given the miniscule benefits they’ll throw off. This then causes software users to defer upgrades and get locked into an older version of the product. The on-premise world begets a world of old apps that users can’t justify upgrading.

Cloud-based applications don’t suffer this problem especially if the applications were designed to be multi-tenant. Multi-tenant apps let a vendor (not the customer) apply upgrades and enhancements simultaneously to all customers. Customers don’t have to pay anything to receive the immediate benefit of the enhanced functionality. Cloud-based apps have this – on-premise apps do not. This is a huge deal for CIOs as they are ones who must get the budget to do application software upgrades. Without an upgrade budget, applications do not get upgrades. Without this extra customer expenditure, on-premise solutions get stuck in time. Customers, logically, decide to defer some of these upgrades and instead rely on a stable, proven, low-risk and unchanging application. On-premise vendors then find themselves knee deep in customers who do not want the latest release or version of the product. These customers then wonder why they are paying maintenance for a product they don’t intend to change. This scenario puts on-premise vendors at risk for income declines as more customers opt to go off maintenance.

Maintenance revenue is a top of mind item for the CEOs of on-premise solutions. It isn’t for cloud solutions vendors. One such cloud provider said that to me just today.

Now, look at what Open Connect is doing. It is not only connecting these very dynamic cloud based apps to on-premise apps, it is also doing cloud-to-cloud connectivity. Imagine your accounting application running on one firm’s cloud environment, interacting with another cloud’s CRM solution that’s also interacting with another services automation solution on a third cloud environment. Then, just to make it more mind-blowing, imagine that all three of those cloud applications are changing, simultaneously and continuously. Each system will need the awareness of the other solution’s changes. Interfaces will become fluid and very dynamic. Finally, consider that the user may be unaware that these background changes are even occurring. Now that’s a big jump in integration. That’s a jump the on-premise vendors can’t complete.

When many on-premise vendors cannot even create a multi-tenant version of their product line (most can only offer hosting services), how can they deliver the level of cloud-to-cloud integration that the market will demand?

Next ERP solution you evaluate, verify that:

- the solution can do on-premise to on-premise, on-premise to cloud, and, cloud-to-cloud integration - the solution can, independent of end-user interaction, dynamically update interfaces and system-to-system integration - the solution can update its functionality without IT or end-user assistance, budget or time - the solutions will always contain the latest functionality, latest process flows, etc.

I still need to see the proof points behind Open Connect and the market will tell us whether it delivers on all aspects of cloud-to-cloud connectivity. Yet, the potential of this capability should be enough to scare the wits out of the number crunchers in the on-premise firms.

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