CloudWorks: Appirio's cloud integration play

Appirio wants to be the cloud applications 'brokerage' of the future. Its aspirations are huge but then so is the opportunity.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Appirio has launched CloudWorks, a packaged set of services designed to solve the problem of cloud apps integration. It breaks down like this (from the blurbs):

  • SalesWorks: a packaged solution that delivers contextual customer-related information inside an email message, in a calendar, on a start page, or on a mobile device, so employees have the right information at the right time to close more business.
  • PeopleWorks: a packaged solution that delivers contextual HR-related information inside a manager’s inbox in a secure, compliant way to enable more effective employee management without putting data into insecure environments.
  • CustomWorks: custom cross-cloud solutions built to address specific enterprise requirements using CloudWorks.
  • Partner Solutions: CloudWorks also enables SaaS providers to extend the value of their solutions by connecting their applications with other leading cloud applications, and making their data more accessible on mobile devices.

On stage at the launch were representatives from Salesforce.com (SalesWorks), Workday (PeopleWorks) and Google. Co-founder Narinder Singh laid out the background, citing his many years spent integrating data silos to limited effect and arguing: "There has to be a better way."

The demonstration was based upon a custom GMail 'gadget' that showed a sales person where they were experiencing issues with a customer with which they had the potential to close out a large order but which appeared to have an account default risk. The screen showed Chatter integration highlighting conversation around the account along with the ability to click into the Salesforce system and alter the account pipeline status. From an end user view, the system provided relevant information needed against which to take decisions without the need to jump from app to app.

This is the kind of integration that end users have been asking for years since it cuts out the need to understand many systems. The hard part comes is the integration which is where Appirio comes in.

While the explanation and rationale for such services makes genuine business sense, I was left wondering what happens as businesses consume more cloud services. As Darryl Plummer, Gartner analyst said: "We will be consuming hundreds of services that need brokering." I put the question to Narinder in these terms: "It's all well and good showing three (albeit major) services but what happens when a customer needs 30 or 300 services pulling together?" I was really thinking about the contextual gathering of social data along the lines that Seesmic is undertaking today. Narinder is of the view that Appirio will expand its productized footprint to include perhaps another four or five major services. At that point he expects that SIs will step in to fill the gaps. That will require the building of a partner ecosystem that doesn't exist today.

Appirio says that it has developed relationships with the likes of Accenture and Deloitte but I am skeptical about whether those will provide the kind of services Appirio envisages at attractive price points. During the presentation, the company said that it wants to see integrations priced in the 'tens of thousands of dollars' rather than the mega bucks the SI's usually think about. It will be a tough sell to a community of SIs that is used to feasting well at the enterprise IT table.

More important, the kind of integrations that Appirio envisages will almost certainly require a degree of change management that is not always well executed by SIs. Appirio counters by arguing that the kind of situational applications it is building must be intuitive, an argument I can follow when integrations are limited but which gets complicated very quickly when we're talking many services.

There are also issues around governance. Identity management and security don't go away simply because a vendor has successfully mashed up web services. Appirio says that it is taking ownership of that problem though I'd like to see how that works out at the intersection of IT delivery and legal governance.

Despite my caveats I was impressed with the candour with which Google, Salesforce and Workday addressed some of the issues. Aneel Bhusri, co-founder Workday said: "The perception of risk is dramaticaly less than it was a few years ago but we cannot ignore it." Michael Lock, VP Enterprise Sales Google added: "The number one stumbling block in large enterprise is trust. The largest barrier is resistance to change. We are all working to address that." They are stating the obvious but it is refreshing to see they are not sweeping them under the carpet.

Appirio and its partners hope to overcome these issues in part by creating a compelling case for cloud integrations at the business user level. Appirio conceives a situation where users will be able to access information the way that works best for them on whichever device is best suited for their work purpose: "Clearly mobile is going to play a big part in that,: said Chris Barbin, CEO Appirio.

Looking forward, Appirio is talking about deep integrations that suggest early entry to vertical markets. This is something colleagues have been debating for a long time: wide and shallow or narrow and deep? The latter is something that has been missing from the enterprise landscape for a long time so such news is welcome. The flipside is that no single vendor can hope to adequately cover all the bases for every industry. It wil therefore be interesting to see how Appirio uses its 'broker' status to flesh out a broad ecosystem of partners that have specialised knowledge which can be leverage to provide industry solutions.

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