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So far, tepid responses to growing cloud integration hairball

Are the tried-and-true integration approaches enough for hybrid cloud models that intermingle apps and data from on-premises and cloud sources?

The momentum is toward hybrid approaches to cloud, involving varying degrees of on-site systems augmented by off-site cloud services. The only problem is these mixes are creating integration headaches for all concerned. Most enterprise IT shops even still approach integration manually.

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

That's the key takeaway from a new survey of 300 IT leaders from Scribe Software and Spiceworks, which finds ongoing pain around application and data integration between on-premises and cloud-based systems. The old methods may not cut it when it comes to pulling things together. Two in three respondents, 59%, indicate they are not satisfied with their ability to synch data between cloud and on-premise systems -- a clear barrier for businesses that seek to move beyond integration fundamentals like enabling reporting and basic analytics.

Still, and quite surprisingly, there isn't a great deal of support for applying more resources to cloud application integration. Premise-to-cloud integration, cloud-to-cloud integration, and cloud data replication are top priorities for only 16%, 10% and 10% of enterprises, respectively.

Instead, IT shops make do with custom coding, which remains the leading approach to integration, the survey finds. A majority, 54%, continue to rely heavily on custom-built data integration solutions. In a similar survey two years ago, 48% relied on custom code for integration. As the survey's authors observe. "companies consistently under estimate the cost associated with custom code, as often there are hidden costs not readily visible to IT and business leaders."

CRM is a hotspot for cloud integration efforts. However, even here, actual integration of CRM systems is still modest. Among the organizations using CRM, the most common systems that are fully integrated are contact databases (28%) and customer service (26%). Full integration with core business systems such as ERP and BI/analytics remains at 20% or below and at least 20% of respondents in each segment were not integrated at all.

Top data integration initiatives include migrating data from one system to another (42%), back office to front office (37%), integrating data for BI/analytics (37%) and integrating on-premise apps (35%). Two-thirds of executives, 59%, of respondents to use third-party software, connectors and platforms to simplify the process.

So what's an enterprise to do to get a better grip on hybrid integration? Not surprisingly, Scribe, which sponsored the survey, suggests an integration Platform as a Service approach -- employing cloud-based resources to link the pieces together. It takes a cloud to get into the cloud.

Ultimately, the push needs to be toward more automated approaches, and getting away from manual scripting. Along with meshing on-premises and off-premises applications, there's the spaghetti criss-crossing of cloud service subscriptions occurring across departments, under the radar. For its part, IT leaders need to press their organizations for more resources that will help make the shift to cloud, especially when large, pre-existing investments in on-site legacy systems are involved. There is also a need for governance and support, to avoid the duplication and waste occurring with multiple cloud subscriptions.

For greenfield projects and applications that haven't existed before, it's no issue to get things up and running. With existing on-site systems, integration needs to be a priority. Business-side leaders will need to understand that cloud can't magically be dropped and connected to the enterprise without additional tools and platforms to smooth the way.