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The Plain Truth About Hybrid Solutions

You see the word “hybrid” affixed to as many trends as you do “cloud” today

It's time to rehabilitate hybrid - and no, that doesn't mean that you have to check the Prius into a 12-step program. We're talking about that big buzzword "hybrid" and what you can do today to turn that trend into a true business environment that runs as efficiently and with as little drama as a Prius.

You see the word "hybrid" affixed to as many trends as you do "cloud" today. The over use of the term has about as much relevance and meaning to most of us as "best of breed", "paradigm shifting", and "synergy". You see the word hybrid used to describe for systems integrators, infrastructure, databases, business applications, platforms - pretty much anywhere and everywhere you can say "online and premise  together", you can say "hybrid."

So let's deconstruct the hype and look at ways that a hybrid application environment - your premise based systems and online systems working together - can benefit your business. Well integrated, a hybrid business environment can help businesses bring in new capabilities or workloads while leveraging their existing systems without the disruption of ripping and replacing large portions of their critical business operations. When integration vendors talk about hybrid integration, they're talking about integrating cloud and premise-based applications.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Cloud...
Many data geeks get frustrated at this point, wondering why we're still talking about on-premise anything, when "everyone knows" that the cloud is the future. That everything and everyone, all human activity, will inevitably take place in the cloud.

Funny thing about that. In the real world, companies still deal with complex, interconnected structures, with limited time and resources to make things work. Most of us don't have the budget or nerves of steel to rip and replace all our premise business applications to pure cloud.

Don't get me wrong, I love cloud applications. I love the technologies and user experience that cloud, social, and mobile bring to market. Those technologies have helped Scribe provide capabilities on our Scribe Online platform that we could never do with a premise solution. Trends like cloud, social, and mobile get us thinking and planning about how do we incorporate the best of those elements into our premise-based solution? Speaking as the VP of Product Management, I could geek out on Cloud, Social, and Mobile all day long and never get tired of it.

However, the reality of managing the business and operations at Scribe, the prospect of going all cloud all at once can make even the boldest soul shrink back from the brink. Like most companies, we've been in business for a while, which means that we've gotten comfortable with on-premise applications that are absolutely critical to our operations. Being an integration vendor, those premise applications are highly integrated with our business and with each other. It's not a simple thing to yank them out just for the sake of being all in the cloud and our business operations would certainly not tolerate the disruption.

Business executives face these decisions when looking at the possible downsides of going cloud - the "unknown unknowns" to borrow a famous saying.  It's understandable not to want to risk stability and predictability in mission-critical systems for a few new features or jumping on the online bandwagon. Mike Ehrenberg, Technical Fellow at Microsoft and CTO for Microsoft Business Solutions, says it best in the recent CIO.com article, Forget about Public Cloud or Private Cloud, It's All About Hyper-Hybrid: "Our perspective is that it's irrational to think someone will go to work on Friday and all their work will be on-prem, and then they come into work Monday and everything will be in the cloud. People are going to live with assets in both places for a long time."

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," is the mantra. How about "If it ain't broke, how can I enhance it?" - enter hybrid.

A Foot in Both Worlds
The reality is that keeping your legacy on-premise systems functioning, while gradually shifting to rely on cloud-based application environments is a solid, prudent choice for companies looking to modernize their operations - particularly when we are all operating in economic environments where there is little room for error.

At Scribe, we've seen the following scenarios as the most common situations where businesses can leverage a hybrid application environment with integration.

  1. You have an older on-premise system that works reliably but lacks some newer capabilities. Unfortunately, you can't justify a complete replacement of your existing system for these newer features. You've selected an online application that fits those newer capabilities quite nicely and is complimentary to the functions of your premise system. You need the online system and the premise system to share data and processes.
  2. You've outgrown your on-premise system and need to replace it, but still want to have some functions remain on-site. For instance, you may have decided to use an online financial package, except you'd like to keep sensitive stock and bonus compensation information tracked on premise.
  3. You're using new online applications and the data from these tools would be extremely valuable to your business in another system, like CRM. For instance, you may be using an online conference or webinar service and would like to bring back attendance data back into your CRM system as new leads or activities on existing contacts.

Freedom to Choose
Hybrid environments can free up decision-makers to consider the full spectrum of possibilities for their businesses. IT decision makers have many more options available to them to provide contemporary functionality and more capabilities to their business when they can integrate online and premise based systems.

As businesses grow and change, they often outgrow or their needs change with key systems. Often being locked into a particular package or platform - either cloud or on-premise - means that when it comes time to graduate to a more sophisticated applications, your choices may be limited to whatever works on that platform and that might not work for your business. Providing the needed capabilities with an integrated online system can buy you the time to truly evaluate options. Indeed, integration can also ease the pain and transition of an application replacement when you decide to do that.

Consider hybrid in cases where you want to provide a subset of functionality to a functional area or division and you can't or won't give access to your core systems. For example, if you want to provide budgeting to all your department heads and not spend the time or the money training them on your financial systems, providing an online budgeting tool that you've integrated with your ERP application is an excellent alternative.

Department heads often want capabilities and functions that might not be available on your core systems. Or they don't like the way those capabilities are presented on those systems. Often, IT departments are faced with the marketing or financial departments purchasing their own applications (usually online) and IT has to deal with these systems after the fact. Using integration, IT departments can be a collaborative business partner with these departments to bring in online applications that everyone can be happy with.

Having a hybrid integration approach and strategy allows you to consider a much wider range of vendors and options to find the right combination of capabilities that fit your business.

Hybrid as Competitive Advantage
Customers do not exist in a vacuum. They know that it is important for their applications to share data and processes. Increasingly, customers are asking their vendors about integration in the sales cycle - even if they're not exactly sure how that should happen.

Partners and ISVs that are able to implement integrated, hybrid solutions have a key differentiation from the competition. For instance, your customer is serious about replacing their CRM system but they're very happy with their marketing automation vendor. It's part of their CRM selection criteria that the new CRM system integrate with the existing marketing automation solution.

The last thing you want to hear from your customer's IT department during the sales cycle are objections like like "your API is in .NET, we're a Java shop" or "Cloud is bad because I can't get to the data" or "we don't have the time, money or resources to write code to this thing - it's easier on premise." You don't want roadblocks like this when you're trying to close a sale. Having a solid integration competency and strategy either in your practice or product, allows you to erase these objections and close the sale.

Hybrid Is a Good Thing

With a solid integration strategy, hybrid can actually be a strategic win for your business. You can keep key premise-based systems that would be highly disruptive and expensive to replace while continuing to provide contemporary functionality with newer, online applications. You can buy yourself time and migrate methodically to online platforms and applications when the time comes to do that for your business. IT and the business can work together as business partners ensuring that functional areas get the capabilities they need while still maintaining IT best practices.

ISVs and Partners can take advantage of hybrid by providing integration up front with their offerings, removing objections or questions in the sales cycle. By being able to integrate easily to a wide(r) range of customer environments and applications, integration can be a competitive advantage and an enabler to expand into new markets.

Successful hybrid environments leverage integration. With a partner, ISV, or your own integration competency, bringing in new online systems and keeping your premise systems should be a good thing.

More Stories By Betsy Bilhorn

As vice president of marketing & product management at Scribe Software, Betsy Bilhorn is responsible for leading Scribe’s new product initiatives and guiding the company’s corporate and product marketing efforts, including the execution of Scribe’s go-to-market strategies.

Prior to joining Scribe, Bilhorn held several leadership positions at SaaS pioneer WebTrends, including participation in the evolution of WebTrends OnDemand. She has also held leadership positions at system integrator Lease Dimensions, where she managed large deployments of global CRM, ERP, and financial systems, including acquisition and integration. Her clients have included American Honda, Baxter Healthcare, Cisco Systems,Ford Motor Credit, HP, Transamerica, and Volkswagen.

Betsy holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Mount Holyoke College.

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