Every innovation spawns its own set of issues. What happens when you have a lot of a good thing, like cloud computing? You might get a “Franken-cloud,” as some vendors are calling it.
Basically, a Franken-cloud is what happens when you have multiple cloud-based systems that need to share data and run processes in your business. As recently as a few years ago, the same issues would have come from buying multiple best-of-breed applications and trying to knit them together — and there are plenty of legacy situations that fit this description. Much, if not most, of the overhead in contemporary IT comes from such situations.
It started with accounting. Maybe you had accounting software from one of the big vendors to which you added some special processing apps for your business’ vertical. HR or HCM apps operated off the accounting package too, but you decided to buy your personnel apps from a specialist company.
Accounting also was responsible for supply chain, product lifecycle management (PLM) and other manufacturing systems. If you did consulting, there were specialized time and accounting apps for that operation too, and then if you needed incentive compensation management for the sales force, it meant another app.
I am just getting started, but you get the idea. With every additional app, someone had to keep the versions in sync with the rev levels of your operating system(s) and database(s), and you might have needed certain management tools to run this system, but different tools to run that system.
We easily forget the complexity of on-premises software when we get to cloud computing, because so much of the hardware and OS/DBMS stack is managed by the vendor, making it all a wonderful black box for your IT staff. However, complexity is beginning to creep into cloud computing too.
There are so many cloud apps these days that there’s a thriving business for integrators and integration tools. It doesn’t help that a provider of hardware, operating system, and database in the sky calls its offering a “platform” too. These “platforms” give you the same control of the innards of the system that you had when everything was in your data center — but is that good?
The software platform changed all that for the better. If two apps are built to the same software platform standards, it’s almost like they were written together, and the integration points are much less severe. Cloud apps based on two different platforms brings the bad old days back pretty fast, though.
So, “Franken-cloud” is what some vendors are calling it when you recreate the kind of Byzantine amalgamation of integration in the cloud that you had when your business was strictly on-premises. However, the big difference today is that Franken-cloud is optional — you don’t have to do this to yourself.
Avoiding Franken-cloud involves selecting platform first when you go to the market for cloud software, and determining to stay true to that platform if at all possible. You might say that vendors have been trying this approach to lock in for a very long time, and you’d have a point.
There’s a difference, though. Old-school vendors liked to insist that all of your apps should come directly from their shops — but staying true to a platform is simpler. With literally thousands of apps adapted to the standards of one or more platforms, you are free to pull together the best-of-breed solutions that your business needs.
This approach offers the best chance of avoiding all of those integration points, because most vendors today have big ecosystems of partners that have written apps to the standards of their platforms, rather than simply trying to integrate them with whatever’s popular. Even if two systems have not been integrated before, developing them to the same platform standards makes integration much easier.
You might say, well I have a mix of systems — some new cloud apps and others that are legacy systems. That’s a tough situation, but it’s anything but hopeless. Surviving Franken-cloud starts with picking a platform, which means finding one with an ecosystem of partner products that will support your business.
Then, as you migrate your technology infrastructure to the cloud, stay within the ecosystem. You still can leverage the platforms’ integration capabilities to keep the legacy systems incorporated, but the objective over time should be to simplify through leveraging the platform.
Franken-cloud is a manifestation of two things: new cloud technology; and old-style picking a vendor and figuring out integration later. Thinking about integration first, especially with the plethora of platform solutions available today, will ease the problem and make your business more agile, because you’ll be able to change configurations to meet new demands more easily.