A Holistic Approach to Cloud IT

holistic: a. Emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts.

The Internet and cloud computing solutions can help businesses create an environment which allows team members and clients to work together more efficiently; where information can be generated once and used in a variety of ways by different users.  With this new capability to share documents and files in real-time, many businesses are finding that they are generating more electronic information today than ever before – and they’re having a hard time keeping these information assets organized.  With paper documents being digitized to allow for electronic distribution, OCR, and intelligent connecting to transaction data – lots of stored data is being produced and stored in a variety of places.

There are many technology models available, so there are a lot of options for businesses today – options which address the fundamental requirements to convert, store, secure, and distribute the various data types within the enterprise.  When a business elects to use a variety of cloud solutions or providers to address a number of business problems, how does that enterprise wrap its arms around the content which represents, in all actuality, the sum of business intelligence in the enterprise?  Keeping tabs on the business data is critical, but tracking all the data when it is stored with a variety of providers may be very difficult.

Example: If your business uses an online CRM such as Salesforce.com, runs QuickBooks on your local PC, and uses Gmail for email service… exactly where does your business data live?  With Salesforce?  On your local PC?  At Google?  In all 3 places?

Containment of distributed data isn’t the only issue facing businesses today.  Longevity and long-term access to data is a concern, as well.  Solutions and providers that exist today may not exist tomorrow.  If you have data invested in a solution with a short life span (and you probably won’t know this is the case until it’s too late), you may orphan your data and not be able to access it later.   And, if you can get your data from the provider, is it in a useful form or did you lose functionality when you lost the solution?

Example:  Intuit introduced a paperclip (attached documents service) in QuickBooks, and offered the attached document feature at no charge.  The “free” service from Intuit encouraged a lot of users to migrate from other QuickBooks-connected document management solutions. Then… Intuit announced that the attached documents service would no longer be free.  Users with the service could still get to their documents via a web portal, but not from within QuickBooks, and certainly not as attachments to transactions or other records. More recently, the attached documents feature was once-again changed, allowing only storage to local PCs rather than on Intuit’s servers.

Another issue facing businesses operating in the cloud is one of vendor lock-in (or lock-out), and being able to address the total business requirement.  Point solutions and vendor-specific solutions may address certain business problems, but generally aren’t able to handle all of the needs of a given business.  If your online solution doesn’t address the needs of the entire business, you risk increasing production costs and reducing productivity through duplication of data entry and other activities.

Example: An accounting firm with an insurance division uses Thomson Reuters Virtual Office service, which delivers certain accounting applications along with Microsoft Office on a remote desktop type of connection.  Unfortunately for the firm, the users operating in the insurance division use applications that aren’t supported or available via the Virtual Office solution.  So, certain users have completely disconnected services – a remote desktop serving up their Office apps, and a separate browser-based solution – neither of which integrate or work together.  The complexity and confusion caused by this situation has done little more than increase the burden of duplicate data entry, recreation of documents, and constant download-save-upload activities.

In each of these cases, a “holistic” approach to cloud IT services might have produced better results than by looking at each application or functional “solution” individually.

Example: A business with in-office and mobile employees needs to use accounting, office productivity, contact management, documents storage, and several browser-based solutions in order to provide the functionality and operational support necessary.    While many of these solutions are individually available online, the business opts to work with a single outsourced IT provider to create their own “private cloud” environment.  The solution includes remote/virtual desktops, hosted accounting applications, hosted Office applications, hosted browser (to allow browser and Internet-based apps to integrate with Office and other apps on the remote desktop), hosted CRM, and hosted document management.  All  applications are delivered on the remote desktop environment, providing users with the ability to open documents instantly, save and share files seamlessly, and participate in a central company-wide document store.  All applications are licensed to the business, so they have the flexibility of returning to local IT operations simply by implementing their own software in their own network and taking the data off the host.  Because all of the business data resides on this single hosting platform, the business is able to not only keep control of all information assets, but is also able to back up and protect (preserve) that data in its entirety.

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