Connecting clouds and building joint business networks via cloud platforms can simplify the integration process, especially with the use of IaaS and PaaS. Yet it is critical for business and IT executives to avoid thinking of cloud tools and technologies as simple plug-and-play options, tempting though that idea may be when many services can be switched on with nothing more than a credit card. The reality is that a robust infrastructure and integration strategy is required to achieve maximum value from cloud networks, expanding their capabilities.

And these capabilities are wide-ranging, including mobile services, social media, and Big Data analytics all of which must also be integrated. Another pressing need is for consistent data across an entire IT environment, including internal servers, virtualized systems, and cloud systems and platforms. A growing stream of unstructured data audio, photos, video, e-mails, text messages, text files, metadata, and so on must coexist with structured data that is slotted into conventional databases. Finally, the focus must always remain on security.

From our newest study, Connecting the Cloud. Download (free, but registration required).

There has been much commentary about Kevin Spacey’s new series, “House of Cards”. On the blogosphere, the talk has been mainly about the innovative distribution method via Netflix. The rise of Netflix, especially its recommendations of films by your peers, is certainly a great example of the Cloud Economy. At Blockbuster, you could see the shoppers drifting among the aisles not knowing what film they wanted to watch. Solving this problem with the power of the cloud was key to the success of Netflix. The transformative Network effect, promised in the name of the company itself, turned out to be not streaming over the net (a recent innovation, after Blockbuster had already been mortally wounded) but recommendations from your network.

As noted, a well-worked theme.

I want to focus on one of the signature artistic aspects of the “House of Cards” series. I was a fan of the original 1990 BBC series, which was wildly popular, as it happened to be screened at exactly the same time as Thatcher’s deposition by her Conservative Party colleagues. One of the memorable aspects—which has been faithfully kept by Spacey’s remake—is when the protagonist turns to the camera to address the audience directly. One memorable line delivered this way  is,  “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.” The line is still used by current politicians, as a suitably ambiguous answer to a penetrating question.

In acting, this is called “breaking the fourth wall”; a phrase from theatre, where the actors perceive the audience as behind a wall, and it is forbidden to interact with them directly. It might be acceptable in pantomime or burlesque, but about the only time an actor addresses an audience in live theatre is to tell them to “turn off that bloody phone”.

In the Cloud Economy, we break the taboo and breach the “fourth wall”. Our internal processes of production and finance used to be played out in an enclosed walled garden. The stakeholders of suppliers, customers, banks, and other partners used to be passive observers but now—through the breaking of the Fourth Wall—they can engage directly via the cloud.

Our internal processes become visible to our partners and we invite them to participate in the cloud with us. They can share production schedules with us and we can exchange financial documents with them.

In certain forms of theatre, the fundamental distinction between actors and audience starts to disappear. I saw the theatre troop called Showstoppers last year: a brand new musical is created from scratch at each of their performances using audience suggestions to create a show on the spot. The audience is no longer passive, but guiding and shaping the show.

As the Cloud Economy matures, the distinction between internal and external processes will similarly blur. Buyers and suppliers will become homesteaders on the cloud, joint ventures will become more common, and maybe the difference between employees and contractors will become increasingly more blurred.

It is no longer taboo to involve people who used to be merely the audience in our drama.

My daughter is into rock climbing. So I spend my Saturday mornings watching her scramble up terrifyingly acute slopes with the sound of carabiners snapping to attention as she ascends ever greater heights.

In climbing, there is the concept of the “lead” who determines the optimal route, tests the footholds, inserts the clippy-things (I’m no expert), takes most of the risk, and guides the team behind her. “Reach a little over to your left, there’s a good hold just above you.” They carry their own rope, and have much further to fall than everyone else.

Leading is hard, enervating, can be dangerous and only the most experienced can do it. It’s a similar role as that played by the Everest climbers Hillary and Tenzing, but played out every Saturday morning on English granite.

In any Cloud Platform, going first is also hard and risky. The first sellers on eBay were not sure that there would ever be enough buyers to drive prices up in their auctions. The first purchases of expensive telex machines had to persuade their trading partners to buy one, and to some extent, train them on its use.

The good news is that in the latest Cloud Platforms the leaders have already ascended, leaving the well-marked routes for us all. They have all

  • Battled with technology
  • Experimented with different business models and found which ones work
  • Got legislation changed (for example EU legislation regarding electronic signatures)
  • Developed training, information packs and tools for their trading partners

The risks have largely been eliminated and the result is a clear, well-marked, safe route to the top.

The danger is you’ll be left on the ground staring upwards while everyone else is “following the leader” and are even now swarming up the rock face. The Leader on your route could be any of the following:

  • A key supplier who wants to send an updated catalogues of their latest products
  • A large customer who insists you must invoice them electronically
  • A logistics partner who wants you to include their tracking page with your shipment information
  • One of your sales channels that wants to set up a web storefront for your products

Time to Clip-in

As they say in the climbing world, it’s time to “Clip-in” and take the first step up the slope. The view from the summit is incredible.

Cloud integration must be built on a solid IT foundation. Developing a strategy and framework requires a thorough understanding of the capabilities required, which go beyond simply consolidating and distributing data more efficiently. Good infrastructure must support a variety of business networks in a stable environment and allow organizations to build and configure highly customized applications and IT environments.

One critical area of integration lies across business functions. Already, key areas such as marketing, purchasing, and sales are substantially cloud-based, and slower movers like HR will see rapid cloud adoption in the next three years. The increasing adoption of function-based clouds raises the risks associated with information and process silos and disjointed processes and workflows, making integration a necessity.

From our newest study, Connecting the Cloud. Download (free, but registration required).

SAP now offers customers and partners a simple, flexible model for extending current on-premise solutions to cloud applications, including offerings from SAP companies Ariba and SuccessFactors.

79% of respondents to our survey expect meaningful gains in innovation, speed, and efficiency from cloud solutions.

“What’s attractive about cloud services is that they can be switched on, scaled up, scaled down, and reconfigured quickly, and with few IT resources,” says John Rote, Vice President of Product and Experience at Bonobos, a fast-growing apparel retailer. “It’s possible to go from State A to State B without having to navigate an intermediate state.”

From our latest paper on business networks, .

searchSAP.com

A recent survey of roughly 50 CIOs nationwide found that the use of cloud software in hybrid environments continues to grow, with over 80% of those CIOs saying they had invested significantly in cloud solutions. At the same time, security concerns and integration problems continue to hinder cloud adoption. SearchSAP.com spoke with Sven Denecken, Vice-President of SAP Cloud Solutions, about the survey and about companies’ evolution to the cloud. “It’s naïve to think that everything is going cloud-based anytime soon. Companies should look at what areas they’ll keep. For one, if you’re invested in an asset and that asset does the job, there’s no reason to rip that out and put it in the cloud,” he said.

Read more in the searchSAP.com article.

In my previous post, I highlighted several challenges that make Cloud-based security a matter of constant vigilance. In this post, I’d like to offer some solutions that can help your organization meet these challenges and stay secure in the Cloud.

These security solutions make good business sense, because they help you function more effectively in today’s world. For example, they can help you:

  • Protect internal data: You want to give employees easy access to company information that makes them more productive. But you also need to protect any data that is accessible via the cloud. Virtual private networks, or VPNs, allow you to place your internal applications behind a firewall that is accessible only by authorized users. They can be very effective in protecting your organization’s data. But that protection is only as good as the sign-on procedures. Simple password-based systems do not provide adequate protection. More sophisticated systems that support a variety of authentication methods – such as two-factor authentication or biometrics – are more effective.
  • Protect customer and partner data: You’ve read about the famous and highly embarrassing cases of hackers capturing sensitive information such as customer-related data. These episodes can seriously damage your credibility with customers and business partners, and violate data privacy laws. But data loss prevention software can help ward off attacks by detecting any breaches of your Cloud-based system and preventing hackers from accessing critical data.
  • Deliver faster insights: More and more organizations are discovering the value of delivering real-time analytical insights via mobile devices. But a mobile business intelligence strategy requires a high level of security. Mobile Device Management (MDM) software helps ensure that all devices used by your team – including BYOD devices – are protected by data encryption and other configuration settings. In addition, it can ensure that any device may be immediately wiped clean in the event of loss or theft.
  • Provide role-based access: Different employees require different data access clearance. But how do you enforce role-based policies so that each employee gets the data he or she needs – while preventing unauthorized access to critical applications? Among the challenges to consider are:
  • Role changes: When an employee changes roles due to a promotion or other reason, they may need new permissions. In addition, they may need to have their previous permissions revoked
  • Temporary duties: When an employee fills in for a colleague or takes part in a special assignment such as year-end closing, they may acquire new access privileges that need to be revoked when that temporary assignment is finished. For example, a purchasing manager may need to step in for a colleague who is authorized to create new vendors within the system. That PA could now potentially create fictitious vendors and direct purchase orders to them, resulting in a security risk. To minimize such risks, your systems need to enable frequent compliance checks for all roles – especially those that involve access to critical business applications such as ERP.
  • Outgoing employees: When an employee leaves, he or she could retain access to the organization’s systems for months or even years to come. Your systems need to provide for immediate termination of privileges
  • Protect against malware: Malware can damage workflows and compromise productivity. So every Cloud-based environment should be equipped with software that continually detects and prevents malware attacks. Because malware continues to grow more sophisticated, prevention systems should be updated on a daily basis.

While these solutions may seem a bit technical, even non-tech executives should be aware of their existence – and their advantages. And if your Cloud provider does not offer most or all of them, you should ask them why.

Have You Read this Report?
If you haven’t yet read “Protecting the Cloud” by Oxford Economics, I highly recommend it as an excellent introduction to the most critical issues of Cloud security. To download a complimentary copy,

More than half of survey respondents are building their own cloud networks. Less than 10 percent report no cloud participation.

From our newest paper, Connecting the Cloud. Download it (free, but registration required).