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Data integration: How to make the cloud work for you

by ​George Dearing
 

Everyone’s talking about the cloud. But how do you make sure your data plays nice with your new technology?

Data integration is a common concern among those tackling the new world of work. But in fact, it’s not a very new concern. Since the mid to late ’90s, companies have fought enterprise silos, proprietary interfaces, and outdated platforms just to reach some semblance of order. These days, we have cloud acronyms like IaaS and SaaS, which promise to ease our integration pains and unify our data. Are they working?

Let’s look at some of today’s common challenges and find out what businesses can do to develop the right blueprint for data integration. 
 

More applications, more silos?

The simple goal of data integration is to gather data from disparate sources and deliver it in a unified and consistent way. You’d think with open-source technology, cloud platforms and a more rigorous focus on UI, there would be less custom work and more off-the-shelf solutions, right? Well, sort of.

Since Dave in marketing was given autonomy to find his own solutions for analytics, he and other business units have added to the overhead that comes with applications and tools that aren’t integrated. It’s sort of like SharePoint sprawl — let’s call it silo sprawl.

It’s a common fear, according to hundreds of CIOs1. They know the cloud can help the business, but with years of struggling through data integration challenges, they’re concerned.

Most concerns surround the possibility that SaaS data will be trapped in silos, lack integration and not be able to provide business users with big picture or detailed analytics. Their biggest worry is the need to integrate their data between their different apps.

So what are some of the things you should consider before you begin to build out your data integration strategy? 
 

Be proactive and consolidate

If you’ve followed some of our enterprise IT discussions, you know we push for discovery sessions and a good audit. Every quarter, make it a point to get with your CIO or department head and figure out where your maverick apps and data are. Part of the data integration challenge has always been bringing things inside the firewall with the proper due diligence.

While it’s true that cloud apps can create disparate silos, they can also help you consolidate. A good technology and platform audit will expose the strengths (openness, APIs, features, etc.) as well as the weaknesses of the tools you do have.

Then you can decide whether there’s overlap or something complementary that can be integrated. Good or bad, it seems cloud solutions continue to expand their footprint and bring more capabilities to the table. Instead of all those interfaces and logins, look across your portfolio and find ways to minimize. In that sense, the cloud eliminates even the need to integrate.
 

Don’t overlook how you manage data

There’s a reason we hear so much about hybrid clouds. It’s almost unimaginable to have zero presence with a public cloud company. Granted, you’re not putting the majority of your sensitive data there, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the same level of governance and security. It’s important to have some metadata to give at least some meaning to all those bits and bytes moving around. Keep in mind that multiple business units often need access to the same data, so, again: data about data is very important. If you haven’t checked your data standards lately, get to it.
 

Take a longer term view

You wouldn’t be the first IT manager or executive to get sticker shock from an integration effort. Having a small army of Java programmers isn’t ideal for even the largest enterprises. But it’s important to lengthen the runway a bit when building out your integration blueprint.

Even though you might think your business situation is fairly unique, the integration payback tends to be significant. Don’t make the mistake of focusing too much on the cost and ignore the real benefit. After all, it’s your job to manage the risk. The cloud and integration combo brings that risk, but the upside can be a faster and more efficient operation. It’s up to you to decide what that’s worth. 

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George Dearing has more than 15 years of experience helping organizations understand how information, technology, and the Internet impact business. As founder of the Dearing Group, he advises clients on strategy, business development and communications. After working for one of the first Internet consulting firms (USWeb) in North America, he’s run marketing groups at software companies, directed strategic alliances at professional services firms, and helped early-stage companies deliver software-based business solutions.
 
 
1 McCarthy, Vance. "Survey: CIOs Bullish on Cloud Benefits, But Worry About SaaS Data Silos." Integration Developer News.