REIMAGINING THE ENTERPRISE | A ZDNet Multiplexer Blog What's this?

Customising the cloud

A look at how companies can make cloud-hosted apps their own.

Customising the cloud
Not every application fits every circumstance, but cloud-based applications are particularly designed to appeal to the widest possible audience. For individuals and smaller companies, using a generic app is often suitable but a larger enterprise will want to customise such apps to their own requirements.

Customising cloud applications

For an enterprise, customizing the user interfaces (UI) of the blizzard of software and hardware packages that it deploys offers a range of benefits. A common UI makes learning new applications much easier, allowing users to quickly recognise designs, layouts, and icons. Branding is also key, as a company's visuals are among its most valuable assets, and need to be consistent. Even user interfaces designed for internal consumption need to be kept on-brand to help tie employees into the company.

Additionally, of course, a business will want to customise the functionality of generic cloud-based applications so that they reflect its unique requirements, usage patterns, and policies.

Choices, choices

There are a number of ways to customise cloud applications. The deepest integration can be achieved using the host's APIs. Among the most widely accepted of such APIs today is REST, which exposes the functionality of a cloud-based application and provides access to its resources. It uses a stateless client-server model designed to cope with the uncertainties of web-based transactions, such as the lack of guaranteed connectivity. Use cases might include the building of an enterprise file sync and storage application on a cloud provider's infrastructure, with the API enabling lower levels of access to storage than might be possible using a basic web interface.

Adding a customised UI then becomes a matter of using technologies such as Microsoft's .NET or Python to build a client that is entirely tailored to your company. Many software-as-a-service providers, such as Salesforce, can help with that, providing customisable interfaces to their services so a UI that makes sense for a company and its employees can be easily constructed.

End-user power

Naturally, not all users need or want the same features or look and feel, so a degree of end-user tweakability needs to be accommodated. Allowing users to adapt their workspaces to their own ways of working is a policy that can pay dividends, as users can and will find ways around applications that they find hard to use - or they will use them as little as possible, negating the development time, effort, and cost that have been put into their creation.

So while one size does not fit all when it comes to cloud-based applications, for the enterprise, there are plenty of flexible solutions.

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