Building a Business-Aware Cloud Solution

In a recent study conducted by Forrester Consulting “Enterprise Cloud: Lessons Learned From Early Adopters” a key conclusion made is “A complete, application-centric, business-aware cloud solution is needed.”  Let’s say that your C-level executive stops by your office and asks you to lead a project to develop a business-aware cloud solution.  To be successful it is important to understand what you are building.  In the following blog I will attempt to define a business-aware cloud solution.

Defining a Business-Aware Cloud Solution

Your project objective is to develop a business-aware cloud solution.  As you are a competent project manager one of the first areas you want to define is the project scope.  As your humble project assistant, I have searched the internet for you and have leverage greater minds from the University of Edinburgh:

“What different employers mean when they talk about business awareness varies, however their views broadly fall into two areas: (1) understanding an occupation, and (2) understanding the business environment.”

What is Business-Awareness?

I would like to elaborate upon on this definition with the following model.

Defining Business-Awareness

Defining Business-Awareness

There are three key areas that enable business awareness. The business process area includes the business functions, related-activities, and the individual tasks that must be performed in order to generate the desired business results.  The business role(s) area includes the concatenation (grouping) of business activities into responsibilities that can be competently accomplished.  Finally, business awareness also requires an understanding how an industry operates and how it is influenced by local, national and global economics.

Now, your experience as a project manager tells you that a well-defined project scope statement not only explains the end result but also elaborates on what is considered out of scope.  With this best practice in mind let us clearly articulate on some areas that may misalign the focus on business.

 

Losing Focus on Business-Awareness

Blurring Focus on Business-Awareness

Please allow me to elaborate. A business function is a necessary structure resulting in a concatenation of activities/tasks that aligns with the skills/experiences of the organization to best support business processes.  The ERP software industry started as discrete, functional applications that continue to evolve into enterprise-wide, business process solutions.  In general, software applications focus more on business functions requiring the implementation of multiple applications to support an entire business process.  As a veteran project manager, you understand that an application focus may result in gold-plating or poor support of functional hand-offs (integration).  You also appreciate that technology is only one component of a business solution.

We are halfway to having a better understanding of our project objective.  Now, let’s focus on what some may consider the mystical realm of the cloud.

What is a Cloud Solution?

Forgive my “tongue-in-cheek” response above but it is hard to define a clear picture given the varied information available in the marketplace.  Once again, I refer to brighter minds (NIST) to provide a definition.

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

I would like to focus on what’s not in this definition that may be perceived expectations of moving business software to the cloud

Implied Expectations for Cloud

Implied Expectations for Cloud

The immediate, short-term savings will be reduction in capital expenditures required for IT infrastructure requirements. As correctly pointed out in the book “Cloud Computing – Assessing the Risks“, there is a general misnomer that there is a risk reduction with the cloud.  There is a transference of risk from the IT organization to the Cloud Provider.  Technology results (reliability, response, availability, scalability)  may lead to business benefits – but it is not a guarantee. 

Now that we have a little better understanding of project objective, let’s briefly review the role that the key enablers will play in the implementation of a business-aware cloud solution.

Enablers for a Business-Aware Cloud Solution

As a competent project manager, you know that the project must address all three components of a solution in order to be successful in meeting all expectations.  For the sake of brevity we will only focus on a key expectation for each component.

ERP Business Solution

Business Solution Defined

  • People:  People innovate.  People accept.  People resist.  People ultimately drive project success. 
  • Process: Innovation is a process and not just a brainstorming event.  IT needs to move up the business value chain with a rapid, iterative delivery method.  Governance is not an acceptable substitute for properly educating users on the effective use of cloud technology.
  • Technology: A reasonable expectation is to select a cloud vendor that provides a  reliable, secure, scalable IT infrastructure solution on par (or better) than existing services.   For business software like ERP to be business-aware, the software must have access to business model, roles, and rule metadata that is maintained by business users.

Summary – Are We There Yet?

Do all the technical components exist in the marketplace today to build a business-aware cloud solution?  Technically speaking, the answer is yes if you want to seamlessly integrate multiple technical components with multiple UI experiences, data sources, and training requirements.  Will it be a practical and viable solution?  I suspect that there is room for improvement.  If you wait for a complete solution then it may be too late for your business users.  But you are not just a project manager, you are a project leader!  You know that this effort is a project program with iterative projects that incrementally build upon the individual project results.  Start planning, start delivering!

P.S.  I am conducting a webinar: Best Practices for Selecting the Right ERP Cloud Provider on Wednesday, December 12, 2012 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EDT

Overview – Next stop: The Cloud! Everyone is talking about it but there is a fog of disjointed information out there regarding moving to the Cloud. In this webinar we will demystify the cloud and discuss one of the key activities customers should carefully consider in moving to the cloud – selecting the right cloud provider. We will also discuss some of the key factors to consider as part of your cloud deployment strategy. Register at http://www.oracle.com/go/?&Src=7604459&Act=251&pcode=WWPN12035291MPP257 .

Cloud Can Bring Out the Best of ERP

Previously, I discussed some of the hard realities customers have to manage as part of a Cloud ERP solution.  However, these challenges should not deter customers from looking at a Cloud ERP deployment model.  There are broad advantages for Cloud ERP including incremental scalability and smaller start-up investment.  I would like to speak to some of the less known advantages that a cloud model can provide to ERP customers.

ERP Value Proposition Revisited

In a previous blog article (ERP Makes for an Expensive Custom Solution); I outlined the key advantages and challenges associated with ERP software.

ERP Pros and Cons

ERP Advantages and Challenges

 

For a successful ERP implementation, it is vital that the approach address both the inherent advantages and challenges.  The right cloud deployment model can address many of the ERP advantages/challenges in a more effective manner than a traditional On-Premise model. 

How Cloud Can Make ERP Value a Reality

Let’s briefly discuss how a Cloud ERP model can have an advantage over an On-Premise ERP model using the inherent ERP advantages and challenges as the context for the comparison.

How Cloud can support ERP Advantages

Cloud ERP vs On Premise ERP

Let’s discuss some of the less obvious advantages in more detail:

  • Standardization:  Cloud ERP will have an advantage over an On Premise model simply because the costs tend to be more visible to business users.  Traditional internal IT organizations in general do not have a service-oriented price model for their internal customers.  The cost of not standardizing business processes gets lost in the general IT overhead allocated back to internal businesses.
  • Share IT Development Costs:  as far as short-term capital expenditures and scalability costs, I can see where Cloud ERP has a definite advantage.  Longer-term or Total Cost of Ownership may swing the advantage to an On Premise model given factors like (a) customer size and (b) level of software customization required.

Next, let’s review a comparison between Cloud ERP model and On-Premise model on which model can better address inherent ERP challenges.

Cloud vs On Premise ERP Challenges

Cloud vs On Premise ERP Challenges

Let’s discuss some of the less obvious challenges in more detail:

  • Organizational change:  When you own the change the more likely you are to accept the change.  Even though there may be a divide between business users and an internal IT organization, they are both part of the overall organization.   A rapid deployment of functionality does not necessarily mean a rapid user acceptance and effective use of technology.
  • Requirements gathering:  Requirements gathering and business analysis is a gap that most ERP Cloud providers have not addressed effectively.  Onsite, face-to-face interactions is still the most efficient means of gathering and validating business requirements.

 Regardless of the advantages that Cloud ERP may have over an On Premise ERP model, a customer with unrealistic expectations for Cloud ERP will result in a disappointing experience.

 Beware Of Unrealistic ERP Cloud Expectations

Cloud ERP is an evolving solution model with as many misconceptions as hype.  In fact, many have labeled these misconceptions as cloud washing.  Following are common perceptions and misconceptions that customers may have with Cloud ERP offerings:

  1. Huge cost savings:  This can be a huge misconception if customers expect to run on the latest/greatest/fastest possible hardware.
  2. Quick solutionsThere can be a perception of a real-time, on-demand value generation for customers.  It is important to remember that Cloud ERP is only one component of a business solution.
  3. Greater collaboration: Cloud ERP or any technology does not automatically result in greater interconnection between people, departments, and companies.

Be careful of expectations that go far and beyond what the cloud is actually capable of providing.  Customers may want everything automated without having the discipline and effort to utilize technology appropriately.   As the saying goes “You can’t have your cake and eat it too!”

Summary

Cloud ERP is a maturing deployment model that may provide a greater opportunity to capitalize on an ERP investment.  A Cloud ERP model encourages standardization through visible economic drivers and provides the opportunity for greater focus on strategic activities. However, we need to balance our enthusiasm for Cloud ERP with realistic expectations.  There is no such thing as a push button solution. 

SI Partner for PeopleSoft ERP

Blog Sponsor – Cardinal Point Solutions, LLC.

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