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The Challenge of Integration: Learning from The Cloud

July 3, 2013

Cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) have dramatically reduced the entry costs for IT and applications. They simplify purchasing decisions and allow rapid adoption and use.

However, this ‘commoditization’ comes at a price. It has made central control of IT buying a nightmare. Employees are finding their own solutions; business units are signing up for applications that meet their specific needs. The CIO is running in constant catch-up mode.

Over time, such uncontrolled activity will undermine the cost benefits that the Cloud should deliver. But more importantly, it poses a massive challenge to the ability of the business to integrate systems and data.

A number of recent articles have highlighted this dilemma that now confronts the CIO and the costs associated with integrating the diverse applications now in use. Businesses must find a new balance between the flexibility, the rapid response to user needs and the potential for innovation that Cloud and SaaS offer, versus the potential inefficiencies and anarchy that they represent.

In many ways, the situation reminds me of the challenge faced by other central control functions such as Legal, Procurement and Contract Management. They too are wrestling with the dilemma of a business that expects greater speed, flexibility and innovation, yet at the same time is concerned about compliance, cost reduction and safeguarding brand value. This is also a conflict between local empowerment and overall integration and it is clear that a new balance is needed. Mandated compliance and rigid review and approval systems simply are not sustainable.

My view is that this shift can best be achieved by the emergence of centers of expertise, or knowledge centers, that see their job not in terms of control, but instead focus on enablement. They need to use their in-depth understanding to develop and communicate policies and practices that make sense for the business. They must take responsibility for updating and flexing these rules to maintain alignment with market needs. They have a responsibility to ensure the tools and systems are in place to offer on-demand user access to templates, guidance and expert resources. Those same systems will enable oversight and support compliance monitoring and data analysis.

We have to accept that networked technologies are transforming our world and the way it operates. We are at the beginning of this journey, so continuous change is inevitable. But the priority right now is to open our eyes and realize that everything around us is moving – and we must join the migration.


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