Thursday, June 25, 2015

Moving LOB app's to the Cloud

Line of business (LOB) applications are typically characterized as the mission critical IT part of a company's business. This could be the ERP or the CRM software, the MES (Manufacturing Execution System) in a production company or the project management system in a construction company.

In other words - if the LOB app doesn't run, the company typically won't invoice, produce, plan or sell anything - and thus quite quickly lose a lot of money - or even come to a complete halt.

During the last decade we have seen more and more software solutions being programmed or re-programmed for the cloud. This exercise typically involves considerations like user interface (thin client), responsive design, latency, multi-tenancy, scale-out, database architecture, service orientation etc. Just to mention a few.

All topics which are core to the design of a software solution. Which is also why it is hard work for a SW vendor to get a traditional LOB app to run truly in the cloud. I don't necessarily buy the argument that since customers won't like their mission critical software to run in the cloud their LOB app is not yet there. Most often this argument is put forward by software vendors who at the same time have real difficulties transforming their 10-20 years old LOB application into a cloud solution. Simply because the LOB application was never designed with that in mind. In many cases, customers would even prefer their LOB app running in the cloud as long as it's doing what it is suppose to do and the performance and security is adequate.

The real obstacle for moving a LOB app to the cloud lies in the core of the design. If the LOB app is designed as a monolith, perhaps even with a proprietary thick client, and even worse - with a lot of business logic in the client - it's tough to reap the benefits of a true cloud solution - such as scaleability, sharing of resources (database storage, processing power, accessability etc). not to mention the most problematic aspect - that many standard LOB apps are customized by customers.

The customization aspect is in fact perhaps the greatest barrier for moving a LOB app to the cloud. Simply because the promise of the cloud is somewhat lost if each customer still needs a dedicated enviroment (= private cloud).

So what do vendors of LOB apps have to do. Well - in fact they have to rethink the customization story completely. This is what Salesforce has done and in a smaller scale danish vendor e-conomic is trying to do. Inventing a "simpler" or more structured customization model, where the core design of the LOB app is not really changed but instead "pluggable" and extendable through wisely designed interfaces. 

I believe this is also what we will see popular ERP's such as Dynamics AX and Dynamics NAV move towards. Introducing an extension model which will replace the traditional customization model, where core business logic is modified per customer.

In conclusion, if you are to build a new LOB or are looking into redesigning an existing, you should probably think hard about which parts are truly required to be customized per customer and then concentrate on enabling an adequate extension or plug-in model to support those differencies. And then start designing/re-designing the rest of the LOB to take advantage of the true promise of the cloud with topics such as elastic computing, sharing of resources, multi-tenancy, one-click deployment - or in other words - remove the need for dealing with IT completely for the customer.

No comments:

Post a Comment