Simple Integration Models Enable Cloud Success

Read time: 3 mins
Feather floating through the clouds.

As much as we love the cloud, the fact of the matter is that today's cloud solutions need to live side by side with legacy applications. Simple integration models are key to getting more value out of both, writes Lindsey Clark in If cloud and on-premise applications are not connected, organizations are forced to resort to manual intervention which wastes time, can introduce errors and dilutes the value of both systems.

Surprisingly, the majority of companies using cloud applications do not closely integrate them with on-premise systems. Clark cites a study from Ventana research, which found that 56 percent of organizations use spreadsheets or data exports as a means of integrating systems, while 39 percent rely on custom coding. That may be because they don't realize what's possible with the cloud.

Users are better off with what Alastair Bennett, a solution architect at Coupa, calls a “light touch” approach to integration. This simpler, more streamlined integration allows the cloud application to operate on a standalone basis as much as possible, connecting with in-house systems only when necessary.

Bennett says what customers first need to understand that the approach to integrating cloud systems is different and easier than what they have may have experienced in the past with in-house enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Many cloud applications are built to be configurable with a flat data structures and do not need the tightly integrated bespoke customization some in-house systems require, although they do still require data modeling and mapping of business processes.

At Coupa, Bennett says his most successful customers are those who have done a light-touch integration with back-end ERP. The streamlined process still requires data modelling and mapping of business processes but overall it's much simpler, he says.

Here's Bennett's approach: “We look at business process and how users' and suppliers' data models interact with ERP data. We build up a model of how everything inter-relates. Configuring the solution takes a matter of hours, but sorting out the structure of the data and getting that into the solution can take time. Quite often customers need to build something in their ERP to create the correct data structures that we consume." 

For example, the ERP system will commonly handle purchase orders, goods receipts and invoices, but instead of integrating all data across both systems, he recommends Coupa matches the three internally and simply sends an instruction to pay suppliers, with information about the associated cost center, to the ERP.

“Because we’ve defined an interface agreement on these very few fields, we can make it slick and efficient. We’re not pushing information into and out of ERP all the time,” he says. 

The possibility of these simpler integrations should be good news for the many companies out there struggling with integrating cloud applications to their enterprise application portfolio, says Clark. They will still have to understand their data structures and business processes, but instead of falling back on ad hoc, inefficient techniques, they can use integration layers or light-touch integration with their on-premise systems to benefit from the latest generation of cloud technology, a welcome change since adoption of cloud solutions is only expected to increase.