Hybrid cloud integration for the cognitive business

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BlueWolf Salesforce DreamforceAs nearly 150,000 people prepare to descend on the Bay Area for Dreamforce 2016, I’ve been thinking about why people choose applications such as Salesforce to streamline and improve their business effectiveness.

The answer is pretty simple: they want to improve the way they connect to their customers and gain competitive advantage for their businesses. Getting there is a whole other story.

According to a recent study by BlueWolf, an IBM company, 58 percent of companies have integrated or plan to integrate Salesforce clouds, and for good reason. The study found that 39 percent of companies that have integrated clouds cite their data as a competitive advantage or strategic asset. If companies have yet to integrate clouds, the percentage drops to 28 percent.

The value of integration

The paper went on to note that integration is the first step to mitigating employees’ data challenges. Poor access to different types of data, including data outside of Salesforce, topped this year’s list as the number one barrier to deriving insights from Salesforce.

Integrating clouds or other on-premises systems streamlines disparate customer data and allows employees to see a single view of the customer: who they are; what and when they buy; and what activities are currently being driven by sales, marketing, and service teams.

This is where it gets sticky. There is no one, right integration pattern. I am going to briefly touch on four. Let me add the caveat that each has its advantages and disadvantages, and none of them is the right solution all of the time. Often, these patterns can be used together for optimal results.

  1. Data synchronization is the most common pattern and drives a tremendous amount of workload around the Salesforce platform. In this scenario, data is moved from one application into another so that the information in both locations is the same.
  2. Dynamic data access is a pattern that excels in optimizing for currency of information. In this pattern (made possible in Salesforce through the use of OData), the applications exchange information only when the source application needs it.
  3. Event-driven integration is an incredibly useful pattern when an action in one application must trigger actions in one or more target systems. Although not a prerequisite to use this pattern, these actions normally would be completed instantaneously, aided by messaging technologies such as IBM MQ.
  4. API-driven integration is a pattern that flips integration on its head a bit. Rather than focusing on what the target system needs, it builds from the point of view that the source app does some things really well and the rest of the world might want to leverage its capabilities in various ways, including some not previously anticipated.

Real-world uses

Take, for instance, a retailer. A customer service rep working for a large retailer is on the phone with a client. To increase customer satisfaction, the rep upgrades the client’s standing in the customer relationship management (CRM) record form. This change creates an event that is picked up by the real-time events engine and is shared with the retailer’s order management systems, instantly updating its shipment process to change the order handling status. The customer gets a notification from the company stating that her in-flight order, which was due for dispatch in a few days, has been instantly upgraded to free, overnight delivery.

This all happens because this retailer is taking advantage of the cloud integration solutions IBM offers, specifically built to be simple enough that the user can quickly deploy them for a small task. They also offer the flexibility and resilience to handle even some of the most complex integration tasks in the enterprise. New product features allow companies using Salesforce to more easily integrate applications and services that run on the different Salesforce clouds.

Additionally, companies can easily integrate clouds with back-office systems, whether on premises or in the cloud, leveraging a range of integration patterns including event-driven integration and full API lifecycle support. Key, new innovations focusing on real-time, event-based patterns allow businesses to more quickly react to changes across this landscape.

What I’ve outlined are broad brush strokes for how cloud integration is a fundamental first step to creating a path to a truly cognitive business with ubiquitous, real-time data and services integration.

What’s even more exciting are the possibilities when adding cutting-edge artificial, augmented intelligence capabilities and access to data sets such as those from IBM Watson analytics and Weather Company data services on IBM Bluemix. It’s not hard to imagine a company that uses the most accurate weather information available and correlates it against historical sales patterns to determine how to optimally adjust inventory distribution and new manufacturing orders, change sales and marketing priorities by re-weighing lead scoring, and create updated sales scripts in local languages, all automatically.

Companies that embrace cloud and cognitive capabilities, enabled by seamlessly connecting their own and best of breed services and data on-premises and in the cloud using the optimal integration patterns, will be best positioned to win in today’s highly competitive and dynamic markets.

Find out more about how to build with infrastructure, platform, cognitive, and software services on the Bluemix cloud platform.

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