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There is a lot of hot air involved in cloud discussions - and a lot of foggy principles.

At SAP we believe that a pragmatic cloud strategy will work best, based on your own unique landscape and requirements.  Working every day with customers and partners in co-innovation, we quickly realized that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

SAP has been quietly developing a comprehensive cloud portfolio and technology platform that enables the entire enterprise – not only a single department. Cloud computing has empowered the line of business, but for the enterprise to reap the full benefits there need to be a comprehensive cloud strategy .

Here are my TOP 7 attributes of a comprehensive cloud strategy that need to be addressed when you discuss Cloud computing in your company - even more so if you discuss with vendors and partners. We found this framework helps to start a meaningful discussion and get everybody aligned – demystifying the cloud and leaving out the hype.

#1 Software as a Service (SaaS)

If we need to take a focus here when we talk about SaaS, it will be the user experience. Cloud solutions start with engaging the end user more than other solutions. Not because they are SaaS, because they can and they are innovating faster and responding to trends like mobility, social, collaboration, etc. Developing or consuming cloud solutions you will most often be the first using the latest and greatest available technology.
“User Experience tops everything” – this is true. But is not the User Interface only, or using mobile interfaces that makes this happen - it is consistency that matters. It is if you have design principles that follow the paradigm on how the people work AND how they can get consistency across the solutions in play. What often looks nice as an app, you see bad user experience when you need to solve additional business problems. And this then creates complexity and bad user experience again.

One of my all time favorites along those lines are innovation cycles. Make sure you get enough innovation cycles per year, as you often will need to adapt and course correct. Reducing those cycles is a sign of complexity a solution cannot manage properly.

Questions to ask:
  • Show me your solution on some mobile devices first; are you consistent across mobile and desktop? Is the solution build for an end user role to engage them?
  • How do you enable collaboration? Is this a different tool where people need to transfer information and create silos or just chat around? Or is it build in business context, collaborative across different solutions like cloud and on-premise?
  • Are you using a common user experience paradigm so depending on my task, independent of the solution I have similar experiences?
  • Do you have analytics in context? Not a toolbox… Are your analytics “speaking” in my terms and helping me to understand what the situation is? Can I drill down from there?
  • How often do you innovate a year and how do you manage the change?
  • How is the customer involved in co-innovation to define your delivery per release?

#2 Platform as a Service (PaaS)

“No good application without a good platform strategy” – this is even more true when it comes to cloud solutions. Many vendors discover this need too late. What often happens – it is more a tool set for extensions or configurations – because they did not understand what real multi-tenancy means (more about this later) or they did not think about adjacent areas to their portfolio.
Simple example: A sales person needs to have financial information, access to skill set of his co-workers, information about payment, shipping and production status of the products or services he sells… just to name a few.
And a platform that was designed to force IT-departments or partners to augment what you cannot build is not good either. You need to have an open but innovative platform that enables your eco-system to adapt what you have, to build add-ons when needed and to develop complete new solutions – but without to start from scratch.

Questions to ask:
  • Does your platform strategy lead to ONE platform going forward? Is the experience with your solutions thanks to the platform harmonized?
  • Is your platform enabling your existing products as well as empowering to build new solutions?
  • What innovation in future technology does your platform provide? Think about in-memory, predictive-analytics, streaming, special, graph store, etc.
  • Is your platform enabling and supporting apps development, mobile, analytics AND integration? 

#3 Integration (and this should be part of your PaaS strategy)

As the ease of adopting point cloud solutions increases, their is a risk for organizations is that the customer experience will suffer if the solutions (from different vendors) do not speak to each other seamlessly and if the ‘ownership’ of the experience is not clear.
Important is the notion of delivering prepackaged integrations to reduce the burden on customers, a need for consistent experience for the user and simplicity in getting supported and problem resolution.

Specifically, what it means is that as integrations are run in the cloud, there should be a very consistent set of diagnostics, reporting, metrics, error handling, error tracking that is generated and that's consistent across the many types of integrations being developed.
The most frustrating thing is when you are calling one company and they're telling you to call the other company, and there isn't any consistency or it's hard to get to the bottom of the issue. 

Questions to ask:
  • What kind of pre-packaged integration is provided directly by the application vendor? Who manages the updates?
  • What happens if I have issues with them? Who do I go to? How do you manage that? How do you guys work with each other?
  • Who maintains and updates the integrations?
  • Do I have a consistent experience when I configure, adapt, control or maintain those integrations?
  • Do you understand that integration crosses delivery models (mobile, cloud and on-premise)?
  • Are the integration flows designed along a business process? Do they have the transformation, routing, API calls and logging information built-in to provide end-to-end business process integrations.?
  • What are the application programming interfaces (API´s) that enable me to integrate to other solutions I have?

#4 Infrastructure as a Service

Your cloud offering must be build on a rock-solid infrastructure, and in addition be open enough to handle and support heterogeneous environments form multiple vendors.

Topics around scalability, availability and security come to mind right away. Many clients use the infrastructure to transform step-by-step their current landscape to the cloud. So they expect a world-class enterprise ready approach. So you not only you need an infrastructure to enable cloud solutions, but also to transfer the current applications into the paradigms of cloud computing – while innovating.

Questions to ask:
  • What tools are available to virtualize my current system landscape?
  • How can you help me to transfer my current on-premise solution to a private cloud environment? What managed services do you have to support this?
  • What platform is in play for private cloud? Does this platform differ from the public cloud portfolio?
  • Is your infrastructure able to handle global processes and available globally?
  • What is your data center strategy?

#5 Security (and this should be part of your IaaS strategy)

The number 1 concern we still find when discussing cloud: security. Due to current world events there is often too much of a focused on data security and privacy. Don´t get me wrong – it is important. Just check some of what we do as benchmark for your discussion here But other topics are important as well. The top 3 for me are data location, portability and the business continuity of the vendor.

Questions to ask:
  • What are your efforts for data security? Physical, Network, Backup&Recovery, Compliance and Confidentiality&Integrity.
  • How is security handled in the design of the application and how do you “harden” your systems?
  • How do you handle IP if I build on your platform?
  • What is your data center strategy?
  • Can I decide where my data is kept? On-prem and cloud as well as location.
  • Can I talk to your security and risk officer to learn what we cloud do with our private cloud offering?
  • What are your certifications and can you show me your internal risk framework?

#6 Public Cloud

This mean that resources are shared between organizations for maximum cost-efficiency. The cloud service provider owns and operates the infrastructure and offers access via Internet. So far, so good. But next to the security discussions above, sharing – or better said multi-tenancy - is a topic you should ask more about.
  • Is your vendor using multi-tenant with identical schemas? Outch. This approach - used by many vendors – offers the vendor substantial scalability. But it limits configuration options for each customer, forcing them to cope with limited business process support from the application.

  • Is the solution using multi-tenant with custom schemas? It offers a wide range of configuration options for each customer. But it limits the vendor's ability to maintain one code base. It may also require the vendor to introduce customer-specific complexity into the code line, potentially impacting delivery cycles, performance and responsiveness.

  • Is your vendor enabling a unique hybrid approach? This is the case when the core of the approach is multi-tenant with identical database schemas for each customer; our customers are logically segmented at the database level, complete with their own database schema. You can export your own schema out of the database, import or export data, and configure or modify fields. With this approach, vendors can enable individual extensibility within the schemas with our Meta Data Framework (MDF) and XML objects maintained in the identical schemas.

Only then you can retain all the advantages of a highly scalable and secure multi-tenant model while still offering a highly configurable application. This is very important for agility and adaptability – especially for the eco-system. Of course a vendor should also be able to provide a distinct application instance per customer, offering better security through enforced memory segregation.

Questions to ask:
  • How do you handle multi-tenancy? Identical or custom schema or a hybrid approach?
  • How many innovation cycles do you have and how are they delivered and tested?
  • How do you handle integration in heterogeneous landscapes with your cloud solutions? Is your only option sending us to 3rd party partners or do you offer one hand to shake?
  • How do you manage user identity across my applications in connection to the cloud offering? Show me single-sign on and user rights administration.
  • Do you have a tool that can monitor my cloud solutions AND my on-premise solutions together?

#7 Private Cloud

Private cloud offerings are important and a good way of transferring your current assets to the cloud. Not benefit in ripping-and-replacing your assets because a cloud only vendor tells you so.

There are areas where a cloud infrastructure operated solely for a single organization, whether managed internally or by a third-party and hosted internally or externally make sense.
Don't only focus on virtualization and benefits in total cost of ownership on the IT level. Also ask for innovation and what a private cloud offering can bring to your business. But leverage this scenario when public cloud does not work for this purpose and you want to have very differentiating and dedicated solutions.
In reality we will see hybrid cloud scenarios more than pure plays. Hybrid cloud as the composition of more than one entity (private, public or even further also on premise) that remain unique entities but are bound together. Hybrid cloud combines the benefits of multiple deployment models. You need to be careful you not getting the bad of both worlds if your vendor does not understand how the right mix is established and how it will play together.

Questions to ask:
  • What can you do for me to get my existing solutions into the cloud, while innovating them?
  • Is your infrastructure capable to run mission critical cloud solutions?
  • How do you manage hybrid cloud landscapes and integration between cloud and cloud, cloud and on-premise and cloud and 3rd party?

EXAMPLE of a Comprehensive Cloud Strategy

A good example I found recently, and fits well to this discussion – is how will the above-described attributes tie in to a current business problem many companies try to solve, namely 'customer engagement'. A picture says it all – this is what you need:
Read more about the 21st century customer engagement opportunities where SAP has applied these attributes:
Cloud computing is a broad topic - but you need to start somewhere.

The convergence of an “always on” culture and digital empowerment requires businesses to rethink the future and drive unprecedented transformation while executing at an accelerated pace. Today’s Cloud is not just about Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and it’s not just about IT. It’s about driving business innovation and agility, enabling new processes and insights that were previously impossible.

To get and stay ahead of the competition, you’ve got to be able to innovate and adapt your business processes quickly to capitalize on new trends and market shifts. You’ve got to enable people and organizations that share processes to share the underlying technology infrastructure that drives them so they can collaborate better. And most important, you’ve got to ensure that these processes – and the technologies running them - are tightly integrated across all functions so that business can be flawlessly executed anywhere, anytime from any device.

Cloud is an enabler of business change and acceleration, not more - but not less. It is about getting the VP of Marketing, Sales, Service, HR, Procurement, Controlling, and and and…  around a single table with IT, and having a educated discussion about what helps the enterprise and the end users best.

Let us know what you think and follow us via twitter @SAPCloud and @SDenecken

Read other relevant blogs:

- SaaS and PaaS: a symbiotic relationship delivering enterprise value