Cloud-First Enterprises Reimagining IT Architectures, Integration Tools and Roles for Front-Office Users

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Cameron Cronin is a director of innovation and thought leadership at Accenture, helping lead its Cloud First Applications practice. He and his team work with global companies on critical technology strategy initiatives, including enterprise architecture, technical architecture governance, methodology and tooling modernization.

Mr. Cronin will be part of a main stage panel discussion at Boomi World, Dell Boomi’s first-ever user conference, taking place this week, Sept. 20-22, in San Francisco. As one of Boomi’s leading global systems integration partners, Accenture is a key participant in the Boomi World conference.

We recently interviewed Mr. Cronin to get his thoughts on digital transformation and the role that data integration, API management, and master data management (MDM) are playing in building the connected business.

What are some of the key trends you are seeing in how large enterprises are evolving their IT and application environments?

Cameron Cronin: Predominantly what I’ve been working on over the last few years are large digital projects where our enterprise customers are taking their whole front office or back-office and stepping back and thinking about the types of tools and capabilities they need in order to take their business to where they want to go in the next few years.

Some of this work is just “lift and shift” — moving legacy applications to the cloud without otherwise changing things. But a lot of it is focused on rethinking the architecture and thinking about new ways of doing things. Obviously, the decisions an enterprise made 15 years ago about architectures and tools are going to be very different from the decisions an enterprise would make now. The world has changed, and businesses know they need to change their IT environments with it.

What role does integration play in these projects?

Cameron Cronin: Integration plays a crucial part in this work. Enterprises are thinking about the new technologies that are coming out and how they can leverage them. They’re thinking about big data and IoT, and they are looking to become more API-centric and potentially publishing APIs as a revenue stream. In all these cases, you need an integration service to tie these things together. It’s a pivotal technology for delivering these technologies and making them successful.

I think you have shifting perceptions as well, both from organizations and their customers. They expect that data is going to be readily available. You’re not going to wait for overnight batches to be delivered. Whatever system you’re accessing, the data has been replicated, and you’re working with data whose quality is guaranteed. This is considered a baseline now, not just a “nice to have.”

People are getting used to what they’re seeing in the consumer space with retailers, where information is always up-to-date and easy to use on elegant apps. They’re no longer willing to wait a week or even overnight for a report. They want to see the data now. They don’t want to rely on old approaches with legacy systems where data needs to be extracted and then put through several systems. There’s also a requirement to master data, to ensure that data is consistent across systems.

How are these new demands on data changing the way your customers are thinking about their integration strategies?

Cameron Cronin: Enterprises have quite an array of systems and integration technologies. They might have an MDM system here, and over there an ETL process connecting an on-premise system to the cloud, and something else connecting cloud applications.

As they step back and look at their IT environments overall, they see the advantages of consolidating their systems and adopting a single platform that provides integration and API management and application performance management.

There’s also a question of user experience. Five or ten years ago, integration was essentially programmatic. You collected requirements, and IT guys went away and built stuff. They might have heavily customized several different tool kits.

What you see now is that customers want more intuitive, declarative ways to do this work. The barrier to entry is much lower now. A task such as adding a field or adding an endpoint can be assigned to a “super-user,” as opposed to bringing in a team of programmers and going through a full development cycle. This saves money and time, not just in development but in maintenance as well.

Agility is also key. You may have a batch process running for an overnight system, but as you end-of-life that system as part of your digital transformation, that batch process might need to become real-time and integrated into other workflows that are also taking place in real time.

There’s also a cloud requirement. Ten or fifteen years ago, most of an enterprise’s systems would have been on-premise. Today, key areas of operations — CRM, ecommerce, finance, HR and many more — are moving to the cloud. And some vendors are no longer even offering on-premise versions of their products. So having an integration system that has connectors into those platforms is really important.

And having the integration system available in the cloud is critical. For one thing, it means that customers don’t have to maintain that infrastructure themselves. Their integration capability is automatically maintained by the vendor.

If you look at integration five or ten years ago, you were connecting to just a few basic systems — CRM, ERP, and so on. Now there are a lot more boxes and capabilities that need to be linked together. So having a cloud-based platform with out-of-the-box connectors to all those other systems is very helpful.

You mentioned “super-users” taking on integration work that previously would have been done by developers. Who are these people and how are organizations changing the way they carry out integration tasks?

Cameron Cronin: We’re seeing an erosion of the clear-cut divisions between end users who only consume a system, administrators who only provision and support a system, and a development team that’s delivering the system and enhancing it. In many organizations, there’s a requirement to move some of these capabilities to front-office teams to make them more self-sufficient.

For example, if I wanted to get a data feed from a system, rather than having to go to IT, I can enable someone within my front-office team who is able to get the feed using a no-code or low-code tool. Or let’s say there’s been a change in a schema and an integration process needs to be updated. Perhaps a technical super-user can do this update themselves instead of having to go back to IT.

This comes back to the organization’s rising expectations for agility. There are more applications than ever, and more systems and APIs to connect to, and the expectation is to make these connections in an ever-shrinking amount of time.

So enterprises are looking for a way to do this work without having to go back to IT. Let the front office handle the easy things and free the IT organization to focus on the more difficult and strategic work, which is a much better use of their time.

Tools now can provide more clarity into integrations and enable self-service within reason. We’re not talking about giving front-office users the admin’s ability to expose data outside the enterprise. User privileges still need to be strictly controlled. But if they are, and users become more self-sufficient, that’s definitely seen by the business as a benefit.

Do IT organizations feel any relief, now that the front office can take care of many rudimentary integration tasks themselves?

Cameron Cronin: Definitely. As an IT organization, you want to free up your more technical, more expensive resources so they can focus on bigger, more strategic challenges.

We mentioned big data and IoT. Those technologies are front and center in the minds of CIOs and CTOs, who are wondering, first, how you deliver these solutions, and second, how you use them to change the business.

How can we manage the data volumes, which are now larger than ever? How can we couple all this data with other new technologies, such as cognitive computingmachine learning, and AI, which require these data sets to be structured and well kept? These are questions that are keeping the C-suite up at night.

When IT organizations no longer have to stop what they’re doing to add fields or update a schema, they have more time and resources to apply to the larger and more strategic challenges. The front office gets what it needs from an integration service quickly, and the IT organization can work on the next generation of technologies that will deliver new benefits for the organization and its customers.

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