What is Fuelling the Growth in Next Generation Cloud B2B Environments?

Over the last few years the growth in internet based e-Commerce and development of cloud based services and social networks has really been driven by four companies, Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook.  Sure, there have been a whole raft of other companies who have developed consumer friendly websites and ‘Apps’ that helped to exploit the growing consumer interest in using social networking type tools, but these four companies did all the original ‘groundwork’ and laid the foundation for platform based environments.

In fact you could argue that ‘platforms’ have helped to drive enterprise adoption of the platform concept as more and more employees bring their own tablets for to work and request to connect their devices to corporate network resources.

The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approach to enterprise IT, is literally starting to change the IT infrastructure strategies of CIOs all around the world.  In fact Apple expects to see significant revenue growth in 2012 from the BYOD movement and this has potentially opened up a lucrative new revenue stream for Apple.  Not bad for a company that has hardly spent any money on promoting their devices to Corporates, they have simply allowed the BYOD movement to the talking on their behalf!

BYOD does bring some problems, namely how do you ensure security of your network based assets, well Cisco and others are starting to layout their plans for how companies should be embracing BYOD on their networks, here is Cisco’s view of the world.

You could argue that consumer based IT is moving at a much faster rate than enterprise IT at the moment and it is surprising what spec of PC or tablet device you can pick up today from your local PC store, you can almost be certain that due to the IT buying cycles of companies, many of the devices found in PC shops will be way ahead, in terms of spec, of PCs waiting to be deployed across countless companies around the world.  Sign of progress I guess!

So the one thing that has made Apple’s approach a success and more recently Facebook, Amazon and Google is their focus on building out a platform based environment, on to which developers are then able to build countless apps that can do a multitude of different tasks. iTunes could potentially offer the future model that Corporate IT departments will be looking to take with the design of their future IT environments, or should I say enterprise platform environments.  Apple’s App store has been a resounding success, offering thousands of apps at relatively low cost.  Does this really provide the template for developing future enterprise IT environments?, I certainly believe so, especially bearing in mind the sheer number of PC, mobile and tablet type devices that will need to be supported in future IT environments.

Being able to login to a ‘Corporate App Store’ is something that I discussed briefly in an earlier blog entry. In fact looking back through my older blog posts it was back in July 2007 that I posted a blog on how the Apple iPhone could change the way in which EDI was conducted.

Since then the emergence of the platform environment has changed the way in which we not only deploy applications but how we can use them as a foundation for building a bespoke IT or potential B2B environment from a series of apps. Some of these apps being standalone and others being interconnected to provide the business functionality that a company will require. Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google have developed consumer focused platforms for deploying their services but what is happening in the enterprise space?  Of the four platforms mentioned earlier, Google seems to have made more traction than the others with deploying their platform into business environments.

In fact Google Mail and Google Docs is used by many corporates already, so it is only a matter of time before Google gets a stronger hold on the market.  Apple, through BYOD, will gain traction as CIOs become more curious as to how they can embed their devices and iTunes app store functionality into their business environments.  But what about the more traditional enterprise software and services vendors such as SAP, Oracle and GXS?

Well there has been no shortage of press releases in recent months from SAP who continue to build out their cloud strategy, the latest being their proposed acquisition of Ariba to help improve connectivity with external business networks. Oracle recently started to retaliate to SAP’s Cloud marketing activities by outlining their own Cloud intentions, but so far I have not seen anything that clearly defines how these companies will create a truly enterprise worthy ‘platform’, in the mould of the four I mentioned earlier.

Well GXS has one of the world’s largest cloud integration platforms already, called Trading Grid and as it was introduced in 2004, it is more established than some of the more consumer focused platforms that I mentioned earlier.  We certainly regard Trading Grid, in cloud terms, as a Platform as a Service based environment, but it is a lot more than that.  Our platform is not only used for exchanging electronic business transactions, it also plays host to numerous instances or examples of hosted integration services. Whether integrating to a back office ERP environments such as SAP or Oracle or providing integration to other business applications.

A new term called iPaaS, Integration Platform as a Service, is providing much excitement for many CIOs around the world as it will potentially help to provide the enterprise equivalent of the consumer platforms that I mentioned earlier in this blog entry.  The ability to host a corporate app store, where employees, based on their role in the business, could download business focused apps to allow them to go about their work on a laptop, tablet or other form of mobile device. Alternatively being able to take a number of apps and use these as building blocks to developing more powerful business applications.  All integration mapping etc or external comms requirements would be pre-configured within the apps, you would simply download and use the platform to host these apps.

So for example a company may need to develop a new logistics platform for connecting to trading partners in China.  You could download the Inventory Management App, 3PL App with preconfigured customs and border control integration and a Shipment Tracking App that will provide true end to end visibility via a graphically illustrated, possibly Google Earth based, supply chain map. These three apps would be seamlessly connected already, you simply download and then undertake some brief configuration or setup procedure to link with your own logistics providers. As the platform is hosted in the cloud it means that you can get access to your apps anytime, anyplace and anywhere, which is important if you want to ensure full supply chain participation from your Chinese based suppliers. More importantly, as you have had to spend less time building the environment you help to free up internal resources, both people and hardware, which can then be redirected onto other more meaningful projects.

I believe this enterprise platform approach will be of interest to many CIOs and Supply Chain Directors in the future but the big four platforms mentioned earlier is driving interest amongst CIOs NOW!  Trading Grid already allows over 400,000 businesses to exchange business documents electronically each year, imagine how an iPasS approach could change the way in which these companies work together in the future. More on the iPaaS concept in a future blog entry.

Mark Morley

As Director, Strategic Product Marketing for Business Network, Mark leads the product marketing efforts for B2B Managed Services, drives industry and regional alignment with overall Business Network product strategy and looks at how new disruptive technologies will impact future supply chains. Mark also has over 23 years industry experience across the discrete manufacturing sector.

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