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Avoiding the Hybrid IT Leap of Faith
IT deployment is in transition. Traditional on premise models lack the speed and agility required, yet the cloud isn’t suitable for every application or workload. In theory, a hybrid approach offers a unique alternative that blends the most appealing aspects of both. But running one application on premise and another in the cloud throws up any number of compromises, from data integration and synchronisation to security and compliance.
Furthermore, with vendors’ on-premise and cloud solutions typically having nothing in common but the product name, companies are forced to take a leap of faith. Does the subscription cloud model outweigh the value of the bespoke on-premise development? Is the agility provided by easily adding or removing sales channels such as eBay, worth compromising existing proven back office processes and business logic? Will moving the cloud result in a complete loss of control?
It doesn’t have to be that way. Mike Cockfield, Managing Director, Khaos Control, outlines the journey to hybrid IT without compromise.
The move towards cloud based software deployment appears inexorable, as companies look to exploit the inherent flexibility offered by this subscription based model. From minimising up front capital investment (Capex) to speed of deployment and anytime, anywhere use, the cloud promises low cost, low risk access to new technology, with none of the traditional IT concerns regarding back up and security.
Yet while cloud migration is without doubt a central tenet of any digital transformation strategy, few companies are in a position to make a wholesale switch from on premise to the cloud. Indeed, most experts agree that it will be a decade at least before the majority of organisations achieve a complete, 100% cloud model. From concerns regarding security to the need to retain bespoke software developments and, of course, on-going economic uncertainty and fears for business disruption, companies have myriad reasons to retain core business applications on premise.
For the time being, therefore, most companies are deploying a hybrid IT model, balancing on-premise with cloud solutions. But how hybrid is hybrid? In the vast majority of cases organisations opt to run one application, such as ERP, on premise and another, such as CRM, in the cloud. While this ticks the hybrid box and enables organisations to assess the generic pros and cons of each deployment model, it doesn’t actually address the primary concerns: namely the risk associated with moving a core business application to the cloud and in many ways is creating a host of new challenges.
Disjointed Hybrid Models
These disparate solutions are not integrated – which means if companies want to create consistency between data sets, they are reliant upon notably unreliable synchronisation routines. Furthermore, this disjointed hybrid model creates a confusing working environment for staff. Sales people using cloud based CRM for example, will gain huge benefit from the real-time and continuous mobile access to customer contact data and demand similar access to the ERP system to enable immediate and anytime order placement. Yet when the ERP is on premise, the only way to achieve secure remote access is through (Virtual Private Networks) VPN, which is far from satisfactory; while the user experience will not be designed for mobile workers, especially those attempting to access information via mobile phone.
Indeed, the user disruption is not just associated with the deployment model: in the vast majority of cases, the cloud version of an application bears little resemblance to the on premise solution. The code is different. The functionality is different. The user interface is different. And, critically, none of the bespoke developments are available. These two products are the same in nothing more than name. And that creates its own challenges – not least in user acceptance and training.
Essentially, even if a company sticks with the same vendor, when moving from an on premise to cloud approach, there is far more to the decision than Capex versus Opex and reduced IT overhead. Core issues such as operational processes and control must also be assessed and resolved.
In many ways, it is this stark either/or choice that is delaying the cloud evolution. For many companies the risk is just to big; the upheaval too disruptive.
So, what are the options? Where is the true hybrid approach that offers a seamless and phased migration of the same product from on premise to the cloud (and back again, if strategy changes?). When it comes to systems for ERP and multi-channel retailing, it may surprise many people to discover there are just two solutions that offer this true hybrid IT model: one from industry behemoth Microsoft, and one from small Lincolnshire software developer Khaos Control. These two companies provide a single solution that can be deployed across on premise and cloud – as well as ecommerce. Essentially this is one database, one set of code and one set of business logic.
The value? Essentially the same business information and logic is automatically deployed across the entire solution, irrespective of location. With one database shared by back office, ecommerce and mobile/ remote staff, customer information is always up to date; pricing is always consistent; and product availability always accurate. Critically, the solution can be deployed in line with business needs without incurring additional risk – essentially a company can explore the value of secure cloud access for sales staff, while using the same system to provide content management for the ecommerce site and delivering the familiar back-office functionality on premise.
With one source of information there is no need for flaky synchronisation routines; while remote staff can have immediate and secure access to deep information resources, with no need for clumsy VPNs. GDPR and PCI DSS compliance processes are not compromised, and by removing reliance on VPNs data security is significantly enhanced.
Furthermore, for businesses this provides a clear migration path, with both lower risk and greater agility. For example, a business can trial a sales channel such as eBay or Amazon, to extend the multi-channel mix using the cloud based subscription model. If it works, great; if it is not the right platform for the market, then simply turn it off and try a different channel. Critically, this can all be achieved without the upheaval of changing the core ERP solution. In this hybrid model, any existing bespoke developments are retained; indeed, additional development is still an option.
IT deployment is clearly in transition, and there is no doubt that some form of hybrid model will dominate for the next decade at least. Yet so many of the hybrid deployments in place are far from ideal. They do not offer the ‘best of both worlds’, instead are forcing companies to make compromises and risk losing control.
In contrast, true hybrid IT solutions that deliver one solution across on premise, cloud and ecommerce really do provide the agility and flexibility businesses seek – without the compromise of lost control. In addition to the inherent data control delivered by a single database solution, companies can retain proven business processes and continue to leverage existing business logic whilst exploring the value of cloud based deployment for certain areas of the business – such as the sales team.
Essentially, with the right approach, hybrid IT can provide a business with a safety net, facilitating an experimental and phased approach to cloud migration without the need to make high risk, wholesale decisions regarding either solution or deployment model. No leap of faith required.