Cloud-hosted apps are levelling the playing field by giving small and medium-sized companies access to capabilities that were previously only available to large enterprises. Those cloud apps create, process and store data owned by your company, just as your internal legacy IT systems do.
And therein lies the divide: data stored in the cloud is separated from data stored in your company’s legacy IT systems. Bridging the divide will be a necessary challenge for any business in future. Why? Because companies will not be able to leverage the value held in their data, or to see the whole picture that their data gives them, unless all their data is brought together in one place.
Typically, the cloud apps that have been adopted first have been tools that support secondary or tertiary business functions. For example email, calendars, social networks, document management, document creation, document storage, data backup, team collaboration, source code management, email marketing, CRM and timesheet solutions. These business functions are relatively isolated, not highly integrated, and so are easy for businesses to swap in (and swap out their legacy systems).
By contrast, few businesses have a desire - or the time and resources - to proactively swap out their core legacy business systems to the cloud: inventory, stock, HR, financial management, procurement, manufacturing systems. Barriers such as cost, security, privacy and overall change management make migrating legacy systems to the cloud daunting.
This situation is creating a divide between cloud apps and legacy apps, internal v external. The divide is limiting the usefulness and effectiveness of the data held on both sides. For example, internal systems are difficult and expensive to integrate into. But the large volume of historical legacy information they contain may be highly useful to a business if it could be extracted and combined with external cloud CRM systems, communication systems, networking platforms and a business intelligence platform, such as GoodData. Equally, the power and effectiveness of GoodData’s platform is curtailed without access to its clients’ internal data sources.
The way to close the divide is either to bring data into a business from the cloud, or to export data from a business into the cloud. Which option to chose is governed by what you want to do with the data and where that function needs to take place. If, for the sake of an example, your business wants to aggregate data into a cloud-based Business Intelligence app then it will be necessary to extract data from legacy systems and export that data to the cloud.
APIs are the system-to-system method of choice for transferring data. They enable the seamless integration of IT systems regardless of whether they are in the cloud or behind the firewall. Almost every cloud app business worth its salt has its own API, meaning that it is technically possible to import or export data in bulk to and from the cloud application. But integrating your company’s IT systems with cloud app APIs requires a software engineer and a budget.
Until recently the only other option has been to manually transfer data via spreadsheets and CSVs: a tedious, manual, repetitive job. But the rise of cloud file sharing applications - like Box and Dropbox - have created a viable alternative. It only requires a short leap of the imagination to think that a data document (like Excel) which can be stored in Box and shared with other people could also be shared with trusted cloud applications. Internal legacy systems should be able to produce data reports in CSV format easily enough. Those reports could be automatically created and saved to Box at frequent intervals and therefore easily and automatically synchronise legacy data sources with cloud applications.
Ultimately, the method for collecting together disparate data sources to give executives a single comprehensive view of their business is not important. What is important is that it happens. Cloud apps may be levelling the playing field for small companies by giving them access to features and functionality previously only available within enterprise-scale applications.
The irony is that they are also giving those businesses the same type of data management issues as large companies, such as the frustrations of working with isolated, but essential legacy IT systems.