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Cloud-based apps need to federate with other services

Leverage native integration capabilities, third-party products and user account management in order to bridge cloud-based apps and on-premises services.

Companies are rapidly embracing cloud-based apps -- not just for collaboration, but also for core business functions...

like customer relationship management and human resources. But often cloud adoption efforts are disjointed.

Nemertes Research has found that decisions to move email, calendar and instant messaging to the cloud typically happen with little thought as to how that migration will impact other collaboration or business applications.

It's not unusual to find an organization using Office 365 or Google Apps for Work for IM, email and calendar, while leveraging Box or Dropbox for file sharing, Salesforce for CRM, and Workday for HR, while also maintaining on-premises platforms for telephony and video conferencing with little to no integration between these applications.

These separate efforts create complexity when companies seek to integrate access to common collaboration applications across cloud services, such as enabling click-to-call within business apps.

Cloud-based apps reduce complexity

Fortunately, IT leaders can leverage either natively supported integration capabilities or third-party products to deliver cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-on-premises integration.

Native integration capabilities provide the opportunity for customers of cloud-based apps to use the back-end integrations built by their UCaaS provider. For example, cloud UC vendors like ShoreTel Sky and 8x8 have built hooks into Salesforce to enable customers to have access to call control directly within the Salesforce app. Many software as a service collaboration apps like Glip and Slack provide integration into complimentary services like Box and Dropbox.

Additional natively available integration capabilities may include the ability to connect on-premises systems with cloud services. For example, Mitel has the ability to federate with Google Apps to enable click-to-call via Mitel phones within the Google Apps for Work user screen.

IT shops can also leverage third-party products from vendors like Esna to integrate on-premises platforms and business applications with cloud-based services from Google and Microsoft. This approach typically relies on either a cloud-based on-premises gateway to federate applications -- allowing companies to extend features like click-to-call or click-to-conference to internal applications -- or on delivering click-to-call from within Office 365 or Google Apps for Work, which triggers a call from the enterprise IP telephony system.

The final aspect of an integration strategy is user account management. Bridging cloud and on-premises services will likely require a single sign-on (SSO) strategy as well, to avoid requiring users to maintain separate usernames and passwords for multiple cloud services, and to ensure consistent policies for password strength, multifactor authentication and password expiration. Most companies implement SSO via their LDAP-enabled identity management server, but smaller organizations may look to the myriad cloud-based SSO providers.

To summarize, IT leaders responsible for cloud collaboration application strategies should evaluate solution providers based on:

  • Their ability to natively federate with other cloud-based applications, either deployed or planned, for future deployment.
  • Their ability to federate with on-premises applications via native capabilities or in conjunction with third-party partners.
  • Their ability to support single sign-on via LDAP or cloud providers.

Addressing each of these areas up front will lead to greater ongoing success, and most importantly, an end-user experience that doesn't involve multiple, disjointed applications with separate ID credentials for each.

About the author:
Irwin Lazar is vice president and service director at Nemertes Research.

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This was last published in April 2015

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