The proliferation of cloud applications has given numerous advantages to business units as they are now able to leverage and provision their own software resources. Features such as browser access have become core advantages to companies because they enable greater productivity. However, a recent report commissioned by Oracle revealed integration as a prominent technical challenge in the way of achieving maximum value. Researchers noted that 71 percent of companies adopted cloud applications for line-of-business managers. 

The most commonly cited motivation for adoption was quick access to software. However, the majority (54 percent) of respondents said they experienced productivity loss and project delays due to integration problems. The same concern also led to half of the companies polled abandoning at least one cloud application. 

The integration problems caused difficulties for departments attempting to share data, leaving many to rely primarily on Excel spreadsheets for this purpose. Analysts noted that attempts to integrate apps often failed due to a lack of expertise as well as excessive costs.

"What is alarming is that the amounts of money spent on this task vary across the sample, but the cost of integration has been especially high in China where more people claim to have integrated cloud apps," the report stated. "Indeed, those who now claim to have at least some degree of integration of their cloud apps had to spend considerably more on integration than those whose integration attempts were not successful; in other words, the more you spend on integration, the more successful it is. However, despite all the money spent in China, many are left with only partial integration."

Integration is an increasingly essential factor in business technology decision making, with 81 percent of companies highlighting the importance of cloud apps being fully integrated with each other and with on-premise software. This issue was especially prevalent among sales, marketing and customer service representatives, who believe it is essential to coordinate all communication channels.

Another key cloud issue: Usability
Cloud service providers may benefit from using industry-standard application programming interfaces so that their software can communicate well with other leading programs. It is important to solve the integration challenge, but it is increasingly critical to enhance usability across numerous platforms. Twenty percent of Oracle survey respondents cited frustration that their cloud software did not work on mobile devices.

Enterprise software designers are also turning to the cloud to handle back-end services such as data storage throughout the development phase. Gartner recently predicted 40 percent of all mobile application projects will use the cloud this way. 

"Cloud mobile back-end services stand to become a key component of the application development ecosystem," said Gordon Van Huizen, research director at Gartner. "As a result, a given organization may begin using them without first developing the requisite understanding of the issues and risks associated with employing cloud services for application infrastructure."

As more businesses use the cloud to build software and the industry shifts focus to open solutions, some of the integration problems may be addressed. However, putting more applications in cloud storage environments creates other challenges. As Gartner noted, there are numerous security implications involved with migrating sensitive data into the cloud. Van Huizen advised companies to establish clear policies and communicate them to software creators prior to the launch of cloud-enabled development projects. 

The benefit of overcoming these risks will be a higher level of customization in business software. Gartner suggested that the cloud may enable non-IT staff to enhance or even build their own applications. This may place greater responsibility on cloud providers to offer governance and monitoring tools with their platforms to ensure that sensitive data is not leaked to unauthorized users.

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