Protect yourself from the coming cloud crack-up

The cloud is a virtual vending machine for Web applications, but helter-skelter adoption does not yield a healthy enterprise. Here's how to avoid the pitfalls

Here's how it will play out in many organizations: As the years wear on, line-of-business managers and CMOs will increasingly look outside the organization to find cloud solutions to business problems, either because IT can't move quickly enough or because self-service Web apps make cloud services so easy to adopt.

Most of that spending will be on so-called systems of engagement, where applications built and hosted in the cloud become the front line of interaction with customers. Public-facing, cloud-based Web and mobile apps will gather gobs of information about customers -- and when the quantity of data grows large enough, it will become fodder for big data analytics on the same cloud platform.

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Businesses will seek industry-specific solutions in the cloud as well. IDC's "Predictions 2013" touted the emergence of the vertical PaaS (platform as a service), where nontech companies get in the cloud services game and offer cloud-based development platforms -- for building and consuming everything from stock trading apps to genetic sequencing applications in the cloud. Even some of the software that defines the heart of a business may live in the cloud.

Do you recognize the enterprise architecture that may ensue from this scenario? It's called the siloed organization. We know this pattern because we've been there before. In the days before enterprise application integration, duplicate yet slightly different records about the same products and customers were scattered in isolated data stores, often serving a single app, and were seldom reconciled. Processes stayed within their silos. The left hand didn't know what the right was doing.

The crack-up of IT
Why are we headed in this retrograde direction? Because businesspeople want the best functionality with the shortest time to market. If that means going around IT to develop, say, a consumer-facing mobile app on a PaaS to serve hundreds of thousands of customers, so be it.

The result is that multiple stakeholders set up cloudy little silos outside the organization. And what happens when something goes wrong with these outside engagements? The stakeholders must work with the providers directly. If that doesn't solve the problem, you know what happens next: IT is called in to clean up the mess.

Instead of the shared fabric espoused by service-oriented architecture, we could have many-to-many chaos, with business units shifting their budgets from internal IT to outside providers without regard to duplicate effort, duplicate data, or time-honored internal IT processes.

The way in which this fragmentation creates a mess is well known. For example, a new compliance regulation might emerge, and without centralized management, isolated systems must be altered individually -- if it's even possible to track which systems are affected. Not to mention that the 360-degree view of customers that organizations have carefully assembled starts to fracture, as rich data about customer interaction with, say, a cloud social app fails to make it back to the CRM system of record.

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