Cloud application platforms: the key to the cloud

Digital clouds against a blue background.
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Blackboard)

In the past, when businesses have discussed cloud computing, they have thought of the three major public cloud providers – Google Cloud, AWS, and Azure. 

About the author

Scott Brown, President and CEO, FinancialForce.

For years these providers have been the main gateways through which organizations can access the cloud and all of the benefits that it offers. But the landscape has changed. Now, there are so many products and applications that cloud application platforms are now rightfully taking center stage.

Legacy problems

The reason for this change is that businesses have almost entirely moved their applications away from on-premises and onto the cloud. As this process has been going on for several years, many enterprises have implemented multiple different cloud-based applications over time without considering how they all interact with each other. This has created difficulties that businesses are now having to reconcile as they look to implement more applications but find that the interactions between the APIs, inventory masters, and customer masters are clunky.

Added to this is the fact that these applications each have their own data models and are each subject to frequent updates, making it difficult to keep track of the data. The overall result is that while businesses have been modernizing and moving into our increasingly digital world, they have been unintentionally fostering a hybrid cloud and on-premises landscape made up of fragmented architectures. 

To overcome the challenges of this hybrid landscape made up of different software from different vendors, enterprises conduct integration testing. The aim of this is to automate and link the disparate administrative and operational business capabilities of each platform, a strategy known as “postmodern ERP”. However, it is rarely a successful process and more often than not it invites unnecessary risk as it takes up time and cost that could be better spent elsewhere, for example on innovation.

The platform solution

So, if those are the problems of the past, what are the solutions? This is where cloud application platforms come in. These anchor platforms, of which Salesforce is an example, enable businesses to unify their various applications in one digital ecosystem. This solves the data problem by removing all of the friction and barriers between the applications.

As effective as a “postmodern ERP” system can be, it is expensive and rarely is worth the effort that it takes to implement unless the organization is very large. Cloud application platforms are a much more cost effective and simple solution. Instead of undergoing the organizational challenge of attempting to map the data across from multiple different systems, all while without missing any key insights, and manually assessing the needs of a particular business requirement, businesses can let the platform do the work.

Cloud application platforms are specifically designed to streamline these processes and ensure that all data is up to date in each application and can be easily shared across all elements of the ecosystem. Furthermore, because each application is native to the businesses chosen platform, previous issues with upgrades and innovation are eliminated because they will be managed centrally.

By removing any mapping issues and complicated APIs, organizations are able to view data in real-time and make more timely business decisions. The maintenance of data to this standard also enables business leaders to perform predictive and prescriptive analytics and accurately inform future decisions.

Implementing a platform solution

The business benefits of using a cloud application platform are clear but it is important that organizations choose the platforms that are going to work best for their specific requirements. There are three considerations – the ecosystem, data management, and usability.

As outlined above, a major benefit of transitioning from public cloud providers to a cloud application platform is the ecosystem that these platforms provide and the many challenges that they solve. So, it goes without saying that organizations must evaluate the ecosystem of their chosen platforms to ensure that it contains all the applications necessary for the smooth running of the business.

It is important to note here that some enterprises may choose between one and three cloud application platforms depending on their requirements. But no matter how many platforms they choose, they must all meet the same requirements which is to solve business challenges, drive results and offer the necessary applications to ensure business growth.

Data management is another major benefit of undergoing this transition, so it is vital that the chosen platforms act as a single source of truth and allow access to real-time data. This means that they must use a single customer account record that all teams in the business can view. The other side of data management is security. Organizations must ensure that the customer will retain ownership of their data, that the data will not be examined for sales or marketing purposes and that the enterprise can limit who can access the data 24/7.

Then of course there is the usability requirement, if the new platform is complicated and difficult to use then the whole transition process will be useless. The platform must be intuitive for both the customers and the employees. A key benefit to look out for is a similar user experience across many of the applications in the ecosystem, this will reduce the training needed upfront as well as any future training.

Cloud application platforms are undoubtedly the future of the cloud for businesses. It may take some up-front work to choose the correct platform, or platforms, and train employees on the new processes but the overall benefits are worth it. Indeed, the enterprises who embrace cloud application platforms will find that they have more time to work on innovation and operations as they will no longer have to spend so much time testing, building, and managing integrations. The role of the IT organization will be transformed.

Scott Brown is President and CEO at FinancialForce.