Extending solutions with cloud applications: What every enterprise should know

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The agile enterprise; it becomes ever more elusive the larger a business grows. As systems are developed over time, they can often hamper progress as they become inflexible and more complicated in comparison to the consumerisation of modern business technologies which are increasingly intuitive and blur the lines between the technologies that people use at home and work.

For some enterprises the answer is a large wholesale change, taking a phased approach to its implementation whilst others may have a business system that forms a solid foundation but wish to transform pockets of inefficiency or to introduce collaboration tools using cloud technologies. Whilst there is value in both approaches here we’re going to delve deeper into the factors that every enterprise should consider when extending their existing solution with cloud applications.

Today it’s more practicable on both the technology and financial front to pinpoint particular areas of inefficiencies in the business where it previously might not have been cost effective to do so. Take for instance expense management. Gone are the paper- or excel-based timesheets and the constant rekeying as cloud-based expense software means this can all be done online at the point of entry and tools such as in-app messaging is making it easier to resolve any issues with the ability to see if a person is online and discuss problems through live chat.

The number of expenses being processed each month will of course vary between companies but it is a prime example of an admin heavy, repetitive task where vast improvements can be made. At the other end are the collaboration and communication tools which help to join up the business; particularly useful where teams are dispersed or where a business wants to interact and collaborate with their customers using cloud-based communication technologies. The scale of what is possible for business now has greatly increased.

So what does an enterprise need to consider when extending existing solutions with cloud applications? It’s important when you’re creating your cloud plan to firstly understand where in the business the inefficiencies are – these are very often the areas of the business where the same tasks are being repeated over and over again, making them perfect candidates to replace with technology, speeding up processes and reducing mistakes. 

This planning stage should also consider what technologies are out there that fit your requirements, what are they going to integrate with, what technologies are they built on, does the software vendor have a strong development roadmap, what other software do they have that would help further down the line, what security standards and policies do they adhere to, and who exactly is going to be using the systems. This last factor is particularly important as these individuals need to be included to make sure that any new software is fully adopted. All of this should sit alongside the investment plan and return on investment calculations.

The size of the project will influence resource requirements for the migration process and whether this needs to be handled internally or outsourced to a third-party. Indeed, now would be a good time to clean up any data issues too so that the information being transferred across is as clean and up-to-date as possible. Whichever road a business takes, it will however, need to know not only which specific data is going to move to the cloud but also any regulatory or compliance issues that need to be taken into consideration. This also includes the maintenance of any on-premises assets, whether this is for instance legal compliance, data protection or security.

When the time comes to migrate your data, ensure that you have a back-up and recovery procedure in place to guard against loss whilst you’re synchronising the data. With the best will in the world issues do happen so you need to be able to get access to your original data if a problem occurs.

And finally the linchpin to this working effectively is integration between the different applications, data, network and so on, ensuring that the business logic and the data structures reflect what the organisation requires. This is fundamental to gaining the agility the business needs. This means that essential data should be available within the different parts of the system, as we highlighted earlier in our expense management automation example – and it should also help to bring together data from around the business.

However, where this is not possible there are some great cloud-based business intelligence tools, which can effectively sit over existing systems, pulling information from different sources. This allows huge value to be gleaned from information that already exists in the organisation which can be mapped over different data sources, and sliced and diced to uncover new insights, issues and trends.

Technology is changing at warp speed and many organisations are utilising cloud to expand their existing solution from absence management for HR to expense management for finance. The key drivers for this are many including the fact that it’s relatively quick and easy to deploy with immediate impact and return on investment and from a user’s perspective, it is easy to learn and accessible via most devices. At its best it fine tunes processes by either automating them or providing the tools to make the activity more efficient, leaving the business to focus on what it does best.

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