SaaS Silos Cause Multiple Integration Problems for IT

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Eight Insights on the True Value of SaaS

Cloud computing and SaaS bring so much more to the table than simple outsourcing.

Organizations just aren't quite getting that whole cloud integration thing yet, it seems. A recent survey of 155 IT leaders by cloud solution provider Appirio found that 75 percent said cloud-to-cloud integration is a priority. And yet, only four percent say they've fully integrated their cloud applications.


The InformationWeek Analytics 2011 Enterprise Applications Survey revealed similar problems with integration. Of the 314 respondents, 43 percent said they used SaaS applications. When asked to rate their satisfaction with nine aspects of the applications, integration with SaaS and on-premise applications ranked last.


"So, why are we adopting SaaS at a steady clip if we haven't found a good way to securely link these apps with one another and in-house systems?" asks Michael Biddick, president/CTO of Fusion PPT and author of the InformationWeek article. "You'd think IT teams would have learned their lesson, given our sad history with siloed data sets and today's identity management and user access requirements."


To be fair, I'm not sure IT is the problem here. While IT has learned a lot about the problem of silos that would be of benefit with SaaS and cloud, by and large, business units seem to be creating this mess. SaaS is just too easy to deploy, leaving IT to play catch-up on integration.


And make no mistake, the lack of SaaS and on-premise integration is creating a mess. Biddick reports that CIOs typically encounter six problems with the following:

  1. Monitoring or controling user identity or access to SaaS applications. You have to be able to control who has access to which applications and what data, especially when employees leave. But without integration, that's problematic. "With SaaS applications, we find there's a much higher risk of failing to disable access after people leave or to modify permissions as roles change," Biddick says. "That's because access is typically a centralized and automated function, using access-control systems with well-established ties into enterprise applications ties that rarely extend into SaaS provider networks."
  2. Compliance reporting. Most SaaS vendors will let you run reports within their system, but you'll encounter problems when your company subscribes to several SaaS services and you need your report to include data across these services. This situation forces IT to resort to manual data integration for compliance reports.
  3. Business analytics reporting. Again, this is a problem because you need to access all your data across the SaaS systems - but by nature, SaaS apps create siloed data.
  4. Business process management and setting procedures for data exchange. Biddick uses SAP as an example. Often, companies customize SAP for business requirements, but when you're working with the cloud, you may have to adapt that business process to SAP's B2B Gateway.
  5. Enriching data. Integrated systems can often help fill holes in information or even the business process. Want to know where a customer's order is? You need integration across your system, which becomes a problem if part of the process is happening in the cloud without integration to your on-premise systems.
  6. Enforcing policies, from security to governance. "We recently discussed the importance of maintaining a master data set, and to that end, IT has spent decades moving away from application-centric approaches to governance and toward unified, enterprise-wide management. SaaS has the potential to dial back the clock," Biddick writes.

The article goes on to explore the options for managing these problems, including hiring a cloud broker. That term threw me a bit, since it's so close to cloud service brokers, which Gartner introduced several years ago. Although there is some overlap, when Gartner used the term, it was referring more to cloud computing resources, not SaaS, and the description of what a cloud service broker would do was very different. And, frankly, the list of cloud service brokerages is very different than the eight vendors listed in InformationWeek article, most of whom I would consider more data or application integrators.


But beyond that bit of confusion, it's an excellent article that lists several options for handling SaaS integration, as well as the pros and cons of each option. You'll also find a list of best practices your organization can adopt to help you avoid the SaaS silo problem in the future.