Business Computing Online - Top 5 Considerations for Deploying a Cloud Integration Platform
Over the past 12 months I have posted a number of blog entries relating to cloud-based B2B integration
and I will summarise these posts in a followup blog. In the meantime I thought it might be useful to try
and highlight some of the more general things that need to be taken into consideration when looking to
deploy cloud based B2B environments.
Much has been written about cloud-based environments so I thought I would just spend a few moments giving
my own thoughts on what needs to be considered when deploying a cloud integration platform for the first time.
1. Don’t try and do too much at once
Moving to a cloud-based environment can bring many benefits to a company, but where do you start and how
do you avoid trying to ‘boil the ocean’ so to speak. Before undertaking a cloud related B2B project you need to
think about what you want to move to the cloud environment, for example are you looking to move your
invoicing process to the cloud to simplify the way in which you work with trading partners in multiple
Do you need to improve end to end visibility across your supply chain? Due to a lack of internal skills, are you
looking to move a complex back office integration process to the cloud? Are you looking to onboard trading
partners in a particular country such as India or China? or are you looking to move an entire business process
such as reverse logistics into the cloud?
Therefore to ensure that your cloud project is a success and to recognise a quick ROI it may be easier to move
one application or business process to the cloud at a time rather than trying the all or nothing approach. For
example let us say that in 2012 you will set your company the task of moving your invoicing process to a cloudbased infrastructure. Once the project has been implemented and is regarded as a success you can then scale up
your cloud-based-B2B platform to take on another task, for example introducing a cloud based returns or
reverse logistics project.
2. Think about ‘cloud participation’
The success of a cloud-based project will depend on how successful you are at encouraging internal or external
users to use the new platform. For example, what are the security implications of allowing external trading
partners to have access to your cloud platform? How will remote workers get access to the platform? Will you
need to provide or upgrade mobile/tablet devices in order to allow users access to the new platform?
Will you need to offer multi-language support? How will users be supported if they encounter problems with
using the cloud platform? How will you train users in the use of the new cloud based application? Do you have
any checking procedures in place to ensure that user entered data is accurate? The success or failure of a cloudbased environment will depend on how successful you are at encouraging users to use the new platform.
If you can take into account the afore-mentioned points then it will certainly help to simplify the deployment of
your new cloud platform. The cloud also allows users to interact with information in a totally different way, for
example using app-based tablet devices such as Apple’s iPad. This is likely to raise yet another important
question, does your company have a mobile B2B strategy? If you can find a way to improve the user experience
then there is more chance of your cloud project being a success.
3. Connecting with other business applications
Cloud-based environments can work well in isolation but to ensure maximum ROI on a cloud platform
deployment then you will need to consider which other back office or enterprise systems will need to connect to
the cloud platform. For example you may have spent a high proportion of your budget deploying a cloud
platform to allow external trading partners to send you information electronically but what if you then need to
get that information into an ERP system for example?
An earlier research project highlighted that on average 34% of information entering an ERP system comes from
outside the enterprise. Therefore ensuring that information can flow seamlessly between your cloud-based B2B
platform and your ERP system should be a high priority at the planning stage of your new cloud platform. What
other systems will need to be connected to your cloud platform, transport or warehouse management systems?
Third-party applications such as RFID or bar code scanning systems? Or perhaps accounting packages? As with
trying to think about what to deploy in the cloud, think about what you need to integrate to, DO NOT try and
integrate to all your applications at the same time, come up with a project plan for what business applications
need to be connected to the cloud platform and what level of integration is required. Once again, think small and
integrate your business applications slowly to ensure that the operation of mission critical business processes are
not impacted in any way.
4. Understand the costs involved
Have you ever undertaken an in-depth analysis of how much it costs to run a behind the firewall software
installation? Software licenses, maintenance updates, server and associated network management costs, IT
personnel to then manage the infrastructure. The costs escalate very quickly.
With a traditional software environment it is regarded as a normal capital expense, servers and software have to
be purchased up front, and software/hardware are carried as a long term capital asset. Meanwhile a cloud-based
environment is regarded as an operating expense, software is used on a pay as you go basis and most
importantly of all nothing appears on the balance sheet.
Now I have only scraped the surface hear with the types of costs involved with running a software versus cloud
based environment but it would be worth spending some time evaluating your existing infrastructure and I think
you will be surprised at how much it costs to maintain on a day to day basis. If you understand the full costs
involved with running a normal software environment then you may start to ask the question of why, from a
financial perspective, you did not consider using a cloud based B2B environment before.
5. Make sure you choose the right cloud integration
The key to successfully deploying a cloud-based infrastructure is ensuring that you have chosen the correct third
party cloud provider to work with. Over the past year a number of cloud solution providers have entered the
market, however many so called cloud providers have merely ‘cloud washed’ their existing software portfolio to
give the impression that they are a cloud provider when they are not.
There are also providers who offer a cloud solution for supply chain visibility, others who will provide einvoicing and others providing collaboration type tools. Do you really want to work with different cloud
providers when moving your B2B platform to the cloud? Each possibly offering a different level of service, no
integration between the cloud applications and different structures for how these cloud platforms are managed
and paid for on a monthly basis.
Would it be easier to try and identify a single cloud provider that can move your entire B2B process into the
cloud?, a provider that can offer a high availability infrastructure with a single service level agreement to cover
all applications that are used in the cloud environment? Can the vendor support multiple languages to allow
trading partners anywhere in the world to use the platform and does the vendor offer a 24/7 multi-lingual
support service so that problems can be resolved as quickly as possible?
As director of industry marketing, Mark Morley leads GXS’ strategy in the manufacturing industry and has a
particular focus on automotive, high tech and industrial sectors. In this role, Mark defines the go-to-market
strategy for GXS’ B2B e-commerce and integration solutions within these sectors. Mark has worked on a
number of B2B projects and has developed thought leadership in areas such as helping companies expand their
B2B capabilities into emerging markets, looking at how divested operations can benefit from using outsourced
B2B platforms and how B2B outsourcing can help keep SAP related integration projects on schedule. More
recently Mark has been looking at how companies can improve their supply chain activities via Cloud-based
integration services. Mark also frequently speaks about improving the efficiency of manufacturing supply chains
and strategies for managing offshore manufacturing operations and he is often quoted in trade and industry
publications. As part of Mark’s role he works closely with the industry organisations, for example working with
American Industry Action Group (AIAG) and ODETTE in the automotive sector and he participates in the
EDIFICE high tech industry association in Europe. Prior to joining GXS, Mark worked for the National B2B
Centre in the UK, a government- funded organisation which helped small-to-medium-sized companies adopt all
aspects of B2B technology. Mark also spent 12 years with PTC, a provider of product lifecycle management
software solutions, where he held a number of senior positions in Technical Presales and International
Marketing. Mark has a Master of Science in Computer Aided Engineering from Cranfield University and Master
of Business Administration from Warwick Business School.
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