My last blog post we talked about the top trends in integration which covered quite a bit of ground. Today we're going to take a closer look at hybrid and the "hybrid problem". Hopefully when we're done you're not equating hybrid with certain unprintable words. Hybrid can be indeed gold.
What is hybrid anyway?
Depending on whom you're talking to and what you're reading, the term hybrid can get confusing. We see people use the term "hybrid" to cover infrastructure or application environments, pieces of an application that are available on premise or online, or, lately, I've heard someone refer to a channel partner as "hybrid" because they were implementing both online and premise based solutions. A recent article on CIO.com refers to "hyper-hybrid". Hybrid seems to be one of those popular adjectives like "social" or "cloud" that are used pretty much everywhere and with everything. And of course, as integration vendors, we've got hybrid integration.
The most common cases where you see the label "hybrid" is in the case of infrastructure and applications. When we talk about hybrid infrastructure, we're talking about portions of your server, storage, and other data center components living both behind the firewall in your data center and parts in a public or private cloud. The situation is the same for applications; a business that has applications in the cloud and on premise has a hybrid business application environment. When Scribe or other integration vendors talk about hybrid integration, we're talking about integrating cloud and premise based applications.
The term hybrid seems to get a bad rap – it's a complex problem, so many pitfalls, it creates new silos, it's a problem. Proponents of the cloud would like you to go all cloud - the cloud just magically makes everything and everyone work better. If you peel away the marketing and media hype around cloud or hybrid, a hybrid application environment is necessary and a fact of life for most of us. And there are actually good things about hybrid environments – not all of us have budget or cast iron stomach to rip and replace all our business applications to pure cloud. Practically speaking, most of us follow "if ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to replacing applications.
Don't get me wrong, I love cloud applications. I love the technologies and user experience that cloud, social, and mobile bring to market. Those technologies have helped Scribe do things with our Scribe Online platform that we could never do with our premise solution. Cloud, social, and mobile has also got us thinking and planning about how do we incorporate some of those elements into our premise based solution? Speaking as the VP of Product Management, I could geek out on Cloud, Social, and Mobile all day long and never get tired of it.
Speaking as an executive of Scribe who, with the rest of our leadership team, has to manage the business and operations of Scribe, going all cloud loses its luster pretty quickly. Like most of you, we've been in business for a while and we have premise applications that are absolutely critical to our operations. Being an integration vendor, those premise applications are highly integrated with our business and with each other –it's not a simple thing to rip them out for the sake of being all in the cloud. Mike Ehrenberg, Technical Fellow at Microsoft and CTO for Microsoft Business Solutions, says it best in the recent CIO.com article, Forget about Public Cloud or Private Cloud, It's All About Hyper-Hybrid: "Our perspective is that it's irrational to think someone will go to work on Friday and all their work will be on-prem, and then they come into work Monday and everything will be in the cloud. People are going to live with assets in both places for a long time."
Scribe has implemented a number of cloud based applications in our own business operations over the years. I'll share some of our experiences and thought processes which maybe are experiences you've had or are about to have when looking at cloud applications. The reality for Scribe is that hybrid is the least risky and the best approach when adopting cloud. Integration can help further reduce that risk and best leverage both premise and cloud applications. Your hybrid environment just becomes your business application environment when you have a strong integration methodology and platform.
Let's talk about two common scenarios where hybrid (and integration) can be gold for your business. The first would be the case of the ancient premise system that just works but isn't very sexy and doesn't have all the capabilities you need today. The second is the case where you've outgrown the capabilities of a particular business system and you need to replace it.
Making the Best of What You Have
You know that system that everyone snickers and rolls their eyes about because it's probably from the 80's? You discuss every year that THIS YEAR you are going to replace it, you daydream about all the better things you can do if you had something else? Yep, we have one of those. That software is so many revs back it's embarrassing to say but it just chugs along, never has an outage, never acts flaky, and does what it's supposed to do very well and simply. We've talked about and looked at replacement systems or adding modules to our CRM system many times and we decided to not to do anything because the incremental benefit was pretty low compared to the risk, distraction and cost to implement a completely new system. The biggest beef we had internally was "I really need to see that information in our CRM system" and "I don't want to log into two systems". We have a cloud based CRM system – so instead of buying a new support system and launching a rather large migration/implementation project, we spent the time integrating our old support system into our cloud based CRM system. Problem solved. (For now).
The biggest issue was access to the data so we tackled that one via integration. That caused zero disruption to our support operations and now all our sales people can access support cases in CRM. The cost to Scribe? Other than some internal resource time to map and implement the integration, zero. It also bought us time to plan, budget, and evaluate new vendors on the merit of the capabilities and features we want in a support system. We can also use integration to two-tier the old system and our new support system into CRM so that we can have a less risky and smoother cutover. Our support reps can close tickets in the old system and work new cases in the new system. The Sales team has all of the support information – old and new – at their fingertips. We can then plan the migration of old support cases to the new system and do that on a longer, more controlled time horizon rather than a big bang migration approach.
Another way to extend the life of those older applications is to look for cloud applications that provide the feature or function that you really need and then integrate the two. Using the support system example above, let's say we can't publish knowledge base articles to the web very easily and we'd really like a full featured, robust knowledge base portal on our website. Our existing software can't do that. We don't have the people or the money or time to write something ourselves – and why do that when we can purchase a cloud based knowledge base solution? Through integration, we could populate knowledge base articles from our support system. So instead of ripping out and replacing a perfectly good – but old – business application, we can add functionality via cloud based apps and integration.
Picking the Best for your Business
Our second scenario is the case of the financial system that simply didn't fit our growing business. We had to replace the system with a new one – there were no alternatives. In this case, we did a thorough evaluation of both cloud and premise ERP vendors. What was interesting to note about the selection process was that at no time was the delivery platform – cloud, hosted, or premise – a part of the discussion or impacted the decision. Why? Because we knew whatever we picked we could integrate with our existing business applications. Having integration at the ready freed us to focus absolutely on the best vendor for our business needs. We ended up selecting an on premise ERP system and it is fully integrated into both our cloud and premise applications.
In this case, if you have a robust integration approach, you don't have to limit your options. All of these ERP vendors we looked at had APIs or direct access to the database that our integration products could talk to easily. In my past life at other companies, the choice of cloud versus premise was a very big deal precisely because we did not have a strong integration platform or integration strategy – how the API worked, what language it was in, was it LAMP or MSFT stack, and how difficult or easy we could write to that API was absolutely part of the initial vetting processes. Had we had an integration strategy other than custom code and getting to it later as a Phase II project, it's very likely we would have picked different vendors.
Why Partners and ISVs should care about Hybrid
Your customers have premise systems and they aren't going to get rid of them. While customers may be at different levels of their sophistication and use of integration, most of them know the importance of having applications share data and processes. What we're seeing and hearing is that integration is coming up much earlier in the sales cycle and in more cases, a key decision point. For instance, I might be replacing my CRM system but I'm extremely happy with my marketing automation vendor. It's very important that my new CRM system integrate with my existing marketing automation solution. If it doesn't, I'm going to be looking at CRM systems that do integrate with my marketing automation solution or I'm going to find a new partner who can make that integration happen. As a reseller or an ISV, you don't want to lose a deal because you can't integrate your application or you can't answer the question.
Likewise, you do not want the IT department of your customer to torpedo your sales cycle because they are concerned about an integration project with custom code and/or they don't have a strong integration approach already. Everyone is excited about the business value and now you've got roadblocks like "your API is in .NET, we're a Java shop" or "Cloud is bad because I can't get to the data" or "we don't have the time, money or resources to write code to this thing – it's easier on premise". You don't want roadblocks like this when you're trying to close a sale.
Have a good integration approach at the ready and answer "yes" to those questions, erase objections, and overcome fears. Anticipating and solving the customer's worries raises your profile – you've got an excellent offering and you've solved the "hybrid problem".
It's All Good
Premise, hosted, or cloud systems aren't better than one or the other, they're different. We all have different reasons for choosing these delivery platforms and sticking with our premise applications. If you have a good integration approach that can handle premise and cloud applications together, you can leverage the benefits of both delivery methods and get the absolute best for your business.
Next post we'll explore an old but good friend – the data you already have in your business. We'll talk about how to leverage the data you already have and of course, how integration can help you maximize that data in CRM to better sell and service your customers.
Blog author: Betsy Bilhorn