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Cloud computing: What CIOs need to know about integration

Kim S. Nash | May 18, 2010
There are no standards for integrating cloud computing systems

No Easy Answers

You may think that you can postpone using cloud services at all until integrating them becomes straightforward. But you can't. Employees can bring SaaS applications--one flavor of cloud computing--into your company pretty easily; all they need is an American Express card and the will to circumvent IT, says Don Goin, CIO at auto loan company Santander Consumer USA. The company is a division of the $18.7 billion banking giant Banco Santander.

Last year, some Santander Consumer employees in the marketing department brought in tools from CRM vendor Salesforce.com. Though it wasn't part of Goin's immediate plans, it became established quickly and he let it stand. Then employees started to use the Force.com development platform to build custom business intelligence tools that didn't comply with the company's existing standards. Goin appointed an IT team to bring those projects in line with the rest of the company's BI initiatives.

"I am 100 percent responsible and accountable for all technology and every shred of data that moves in and out of my company," he says. Goin doesn't want IT to be seen as "the say-no people," he says, but end users may not foresee the difficulties of meshing new products with existing technology. "On-premise, we have technology standards. Nothing like that exists in the cloud," he explains. "If business users adopt these things, we CIOs are challenged in IT to figure out how to integrate [them] with the rest of our world."

Goin sees a parallel between cloud computing and the early client-server days, when business users might have bought a new point-and-click development tool and built their own software without IT's help or knowledge. "I was at Southwest Airlines at the time, and it wasn't uncommon for a pilot to go home and develop a crew-scheduling application with PowerBuilder and say he wanted to put it out to everyone," Goin recalls. "Those systems eventually worked themselves back into IT."

Even when cloud computing is a firm goal, unexpected bumps arise. The Web makes the cloud possible, but many of the legacy systems that cloud applications need to communicate with weren't built for online use. Middleware that translates between data formats will be necessary and, as in the early days of the Internet, corporate IT often will have to build it itself.

Big vendors, such as Salesforce and NetSuite, which sells e-commerce and CRM software, offer good integration tools for popular business applications, such as software from Oracle, says Stuart Appley, CIO at Shorenstein Properties, a private company that owns and manages commercial real estate. But they don't have tools to interact with older or niche providers, much less to systems you've developed in-house.

 

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