In this changing enterprise technology climate, I knew I wanted to sit down with an IT subject matter expert to learn how companies are managing applications and systems that reside either on-premises or in the cloud. The best person for the conversation is Hadrian Knotz, who is the CIO at Solver, Inc. and is, generally speaking, a gentleman and a scholar. Read on to learn about the challenges facing IT teams who are supporting the technology needs of organizations, big and small – and how these professionals are providing solutions.
Felzke: Solver has recently launched BI360 Cloud, a cloud deployment Corporate Performance Management (CPM) suite offering, after years of success with the on-premises version of BI360. How have you seen technology management change since when you joined Solver and started leading that team?
Knotz: The biggest trend that we have seen with our customers is the steady move from managing all systems internally to some type of IT outsourcing. Different industries definitely seem to be moving at different speeds. The more “finance” oriented verticals such as banking, insurance, and healthcare tend to take a more cautious approach to systemic change, as one would expect given the level of regulatory oversight they operate under. Smaller customers appear to have adopted cloud-based solutions more quickly as there is typically a lower level of system integration and dependency to worry about when your IT systems are less complicated. In the past 12-24 months, with the announcement and release of Microsoft Dynamics 365, we have seen some larger organizations begin to move their ERP systems to D365. We expect this trend to continue as the product matures and more organizations work through proof of concept deployments with D365 and other cloud ERPs.
Felzke: How does the Solver’s portfolio of technology systems break down in terms of on-premises and cloud? What kind of systems are hosted where?
Knotz: At Solver, we have a mix of on-premises and cloud applications. Many of our core systems, such as our ERP, Support platform, and CRM remain on-premises because they are tightly integrated with our on-premises BI360 solution. Many of our externally facing systems that handle marketing functions, HR, and communications are using cloud-based solutions. We take a pragmatic approach to selecting where to put systems, taking into account where we can get the best return for the investment. For example, as a software development company, we have many development and/or testing virtual servers running in an on-premises virtualization cluster that would be extremely expensive to run in a cloud IaaS platform. We are strong believers in a hybrid approach to infrastructure design, but I expect that more systems will move to a cloud-based environment over time.
Felzke: What are some challenges that the IT team faces in navigating management of applications that are on-premises and cloud-hosted, but need to come together?
Knotz: One challenge is consolidating visibility into your various systems, which are hosted in different environments. Unless you take the approach that you are only going to deal with one provider, say for example, Microsoft Azure, then it is very hard to gain complete visibility across your systems in “one pane of glass.” There are 3rd party tools out there that have some ability to consolidate, but we have not found them to be very compelling yet, although the market for this is changing rapidly.
Another challenge is in dealing with data transfer and integration. This is a perennial problem with cloud systems: exporting data for re-use or re-analysis elsewhere. Nearly all providers will tell you that you, as a user, own your data, but don’t make it particularly easy to extract in a meaningful way. This is one challenge that we at Solver are looking to be able to address eventually with our BI360 Integration tool, which is an exciting prospect. As soon as we have access to an internal Beta version, we will be looking to use the BI360 Integration tool to address this within our own production systems.
Felzke: How do BI and CPM solutions factor into hybrid system management, especially when bringing together disparate and diverse data types for rich, integrated analysis?
Knotz: As the diversity in one’s IT system portfolio grows, it becomes more and more critical to have a solid platform to manage and analyze the data produced by these systems. In most organizations, there is a hierarchy to the importance placed on the various data that these systems produce, starting with the critical operational and financial data down to monitoring of non-critical systems. Providing access to these different kinds of data in a consistent way allows end users to produce meaningful analysis quickly. The biggest challenge in managing these many systems is typically the data integration and management. How do you bring the data into a single place for advanced analysis? Traditionally, this has been one of the most expensive and time consuming parts of BI, and it is one where we are putting a lot of effort into developing an efficient solution with our new BI360 ETL tool.
Felzke: How can IT and other departments, like finance and accounting, partner to manage enterprise technology, like cloud CPM, in the most efficient way?
Knotz: Communication and collaboration are the foundational elements of a healthy partnership between disparate departments within any organization. Traditionally, the IT department has acted as an enforcer of policy or a “gatekeeper”, rather than a true partner in designing solutions in a collaborative way. Many modern systems have started to embrace the idea of user-self management, where knowledgeable business leaders within a department can self-manage certain aspects of a system for their direct reports, such as data access security. Security within BI360 was built around this idea that IT can be taken out of the loop as far as access control is concerned once the data owners have the requisite knowledge to configure access.
Navigating this business culture transition to cloud platforms is not always easy. And if you’re not an IT professional, you might not understand all of the aspects to consider in order to be a successful team member. Solver, Inc. is happy to answer questions and review BI360’s web-powered, easy-to-use Excel and mobile BI tools with both real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis, budgeting and dashboards as a way to accelerate company performance management.