During a recent TechTarget podcast, THINKstrategies founder Jeff Kaplan shared a funny little encounter he had at a conference. Let’s see if this sounds familiar to any of you.
He asked some veteran IT workers why they were attending a SaaS-related event. They smiled and responded: “They’ve come back.”
Of course that begged the question, “Who came back?” The intrepid IT vets explained that the business leaders who had so cavalierly signed up with SaaS solutions a few years ago have now realized they forgot a few things — like, oh, data integration. And so, these leaders have “come back” to IT for help with their SaaS problems.
It’s both humorous and annoying, isn’t it?
In a podcast for SearchCloudApplications, Jan Stafford, executive editor, discusses with Kaplan about having heard similar stories.
And really, the pattern predates SaaS and cloud; you might say it’s the original enterprise integration pattern: The business does what it wants and IT cleans up the integration messes left behind.
Stafford asks what can be done to stop the situation from happening, and Kaplan gives the “simple answer,” which is to say that IT needs to better educate the business about why it should involve IT from the start and put into place some policies. Basically, IT needs to convince business leaders that they will not act as gatekeepers, but will be strategic partners.
I agree that’s part of the answer, but I’m hesitant to believe that IT can fix this alone. First, this isn’t the first time in history business has done whatever it’s wanted to — from rogue spreadsheets to software adoption — then turned to IT to clean up their integration mess. Second, despite the problems that shadow IT has historically caused, business leaders were pretty darned fast to embrace SaaS, and if someone’s bypassing you, it’s hard to know it until it’s too late.
Also, when this whole SaaS/cloud trend started, integration was a major question, and a legitimate barrier to implementation. I think if business units had gone to IT directly, IT would’ve slowed down implementation — and rightly so, given the backtracking they’re doing now.
But let’s not argue over who failed to integrate whom.
The goods news now, as Kaplan points out, is that integration isn’t nearly as big of a problem as it was a few years ago, thanks primarily to APIs.
“So what we've seen in these SaaS and cloud environments is a fundamental recognition that the industry is more likely to succeed if it builds in more interoperability into … designs and services and software solutions,” Kaplan says. “There are still integration issues, data integration issues, that is, on top of those APIs, but to answer your question, the problem may still exist overall but the industry is more inclined to try to address it than ever before.”
But here’s the catch: While there may be help with integration, it may not necessarily be what you need. That’s why it’s on you, dear business or IT leader, to really needle the SaaS and cloud providers about the specifics of integration support. Kaplan recommends that you ask for a track record of success with enterprise integration.
You should also know that integration isn’t a given in service level agreements, he adds.
“The kinds of SLAs that are generally available in the cloud and SaaS environments have more to do with availability than they do about integration into third-party services,” Kaplan states.
That means it’s up to you to ask questions and ensure that any promises are made in writing.