As I wrote in Who’s Dictating Cloud App’s in the Enterprise?, the “there’s an app for that” culture has trained us to find our own technology solutions to our problems. While it gives consumers a wonderful variety of solutions, this culture creates a challenge for businesses, with lots of data in disconnected application environments. These pockets of technology are a technological “Tower of Babel.”
There are apps, SaaS services and platforms. Apps tend to solve one problem. SaaS services tend to solve a group of related problems, and platforms tend to be SaaS services that solve an entire class of problems, through an ecosystem that includes other SaaS services and apps.
The last time I saw this problem was back in the 90’s with the explosion of “client-server” technology that was born out of a need for agility in contrast to the snails pace of mainframe development. The explosion of Line of Business and specialized software was a boon to businesses in terms of functionality, but created chaos for the people who had to keep track of everything. You had disparate front-end and back-end software that needed to communicate. The communication mechanism was middleware. The “-” in client-server.
For example, a typical business could choose to take advantage of best-of-breed solutions and have a practice management system running on a Windows server with a SQL-Server back-end, and have an ERP system running on a UNIX system with an Oracle back-end. The business then needed to pull all the data together in a business intelligence (BI) system for an executive dashboard or a data warehouse for reporting. Connecting the disparate systems was middleware.
API’s, Integrations and Syncing, Oh My
Flash forward a few decades and we now have SaaS and cloud and apps. As we saw in the 90’s we have a sprawl of solutions in organizations — CRM, ERP, Marketing Automation — delivered by a variety of vendors within a single organization. So how do we get these systems to talk to each other?
Now we have APIs which enable integration by specific vendors or custom integration by organizations who can apply development resources. However, it’s tougher for SMB’s. They do have some options, though. Tools like IFTTT and Zapier that are emerging as “universal connectors” allow back-end data syncing. This is not a sophisticated or long-term solution, but it eases the pain in creating connections between your cloud apps.
Cloud middleware is an opportunity. I expect a flurry of innovation and standardization in cloud middleware to emerge. It’s not sexy, but there’s a need to bring a little order to the cloud sprawl.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
- It’s Time For An Internal Garage Sale…For Your Data (intelligistgroup.com)