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December 22, 2014

Hybrid cloud – are we missing the point, and the potential?

As hybrid platforms are set to overtake private clouds, David Jones of Hyland, creator of OnBase, asks 'what are organisations really looking for?'

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Hybrid cloud is one of the main talking points in the IT industry, with vendors touting hybrid solutions from Aberdeen to Algiers. The majority of these solutions focus on cloud-based access to some part of their solution’s content or functions. While such access may be useful, it only goes so far. So what are organisations really looking for?

Hybrid data

The rise to fame of the cloud has brought immense opportunities to businesses but, to paraphrase, with great power comes great responsibility – and many organisations are simply not ready to accept the responsibility of moving all corporate content into the cloud.

Never easily deterred, the cloud industry has come up with a halfway house, allowing users to store some content in the cloud and some on-premise – the hybrid cloud.

This approach has obvious benefits: the organisation gets to maintain control of its most sensitive content in an on-premise system, while allowing cloud-based access to the less sensitive parts of its information underbelly. This approach is gaining support, with Gartner reporting earlier this year that some 60% of organisations view hybrid as the preferred model for their future cloud strategy.

However, this focuses on the spread of data and processing for one single system – be that ECM, ERP, CRM or whatever. Allowing access via the cloud to bits of each of those systems is useful but, arguably, missing the point, as all these systems are connected.

True hybrid

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Every business uses multiple software systems and, in an ideal world, these would all exchange information seamlessly and operate as if one, co-joined, entity. The reality of course is that IT departments spend countless hours and numerous pounds trying to get these independent pieces of software to talk. The term ‘open systems’ is thrown around frequently as a way to facilitate this connectivity and indeed it has enabled some applications to talk to each other. Despite some progress, there is still a long way to go.

Then along comes the cloud – meaning that the systems that IT are trying to get to talk to each other are now not even in the same building or IT infrastructure, but could be anywhere in the world, hosted on someone else’s hardware and each with their own unique security and connectivity challenges.

With this comes the challenge – what organisations are looking for is the ability to allow any business system to talk to any other system, irrespective of whether these systems are on-premise or in the cloud.

This would enable an organisation to select the best-of-breed solutions for all their line of business software requirements, without having to worry about whether they are cloud or on-premise. It would allow content sharing between applications and device, and allow interaction and integration with multiple business processes, from anywhere, using whatever device works best at the time.

While this might sound like the holy grail for IT and business alike, it is starting to happen. Enterprise content management (ECM) systems are in many cases acting as the enabling technology, which allows content and processes to be shared across multiple applications.

Let’s take a simple example. An organisation deploying a leading ERP platform as an on-premise installation has all purchase invoices for the business scanned by an offsite bureau. This digitised content is uploaded to an ECM in the cloud solution. However, these two solutions are integrated, which allows users of the on-premise ERP installation access to invoices as soon as they are uploaded. As a result, processing can start immediately.

At its simplest, ERP users can see scanned invoices and re-enter, copy or paste the information from these invoices into their own system – but that does not really make full use of the ECM solution. Using advanced capture facilities, key information from those invoices can automatically be extracted during the scanning process and simply validated by ERP operators, rather than having to be re-entered. This dramatically reduces the amount of time taken to process invoices and also reduces any errors introduced by re-keying data. In this scenario, the location of these systems is much less relevant – the important issue is how they seamlessly work together to deliver benefit to the end user.

And this is the essence of a true hybrid solution, where information exchange between best-of-breed business solutions allows access to content and processes, irrespective of the application or device the user happens to be working in, or the physical location of individual systems. Only when this seamless integration has been achieved, as in the case above via an ECM solution, will organisations fully achieve the potential that hybrid cloud can deliver.

David Jones is cloud solution marketing manager of Hyland, creator of OnBase.

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