Cloud platforms and SaaS solutions have opened the door to service-oriented strategies for the day-to-day infrastructure and applications needs of organizations. These "off premises" approaches to business functions have helped reduce costs and improve workplace access and productivity. But, as a side effect, managed services providers are losing some of their traditional services domains as companies continue to migrate systems and work activities to cloud services.
There is increasing pressure on MSPs to innovate services in new areas to sustain their businesses, particularly to contribute to real business outcomes (and not just IT infrastructure) and provide more direct business user support. MSPs should consider compelling opportunities for developing "middleware" services that fill in gaps around cloud solutions, especially for helping business users get more out of these solutions, while protecting users and the organization.
Over the years, IT services providers have profited well from building and maintaining data and application integrations for on-premises and cloud infrastructures. Recently vendor offerings for self-service data integration have been growing, with the business user as a primary target. The increased adoption of self-service data integration has the potential to cut into data integration services from MSPs.
Self-service data integration is an intriguing approach to connecting business users to actual integration tools; however this approach is filled with risk that must be addressed. Unfortunately hype from a number of data integration software vendors tries to make the case that self-service data integration is easy-peasy for the business user. The reality is far from this simplified view. But that doesn't mean self-service data integration is a bad idea. And it actually opens up an opportunity for third-party consultants and managed services providers to create valuable services that better support business users – and reduce risk – when working with data integration.
To ensure that business users do the work correctly and avoid serious missteps, self-service data integration has to be narrowly defined, with guidance at every step. MSPs could create a "middleware" services layer for particular self-service data integration offerings that better protects and guides business users when leveraging these offerings. It would be a sort of 'managed intervention services' – protecting and coaching business users when utilizing data integration services, to better understand what is going on and how to use the self-service approach.
Business users have to understand both the business aspects and the technical means to successfully perform self-service data integration. For example, MSPS can provide missing guidance (be assured - there is plenty of missing guidance in these offerings) to help business users utilize data modeling and data definitions that are necessary to stay on the right path for integrations that will correctly produce the data results that are needed. This can be accomplished both through supplemental technology services, and through training / coaching that can be embedded in technology services or handled in live engagements. Internal IT teams often have little time to create such guidance and training for business users.
There are also extremely complex data integration processes that should never be attempted by business users – but these users should have access to the resulting data for their own projects. In these instances managed services can fill the gap by delivering ready-to-use data to business users. MSPs can create the processes that handle complex integrations, making available the resulting data with the assurance that the integrations have been tested and verified by the services provider.
Working with business users for self-service data integration also means that MSPs will now have the mastery to take direct advantage of self-service data integration tools, along with other cloud data integration platforms, to build other data-related services for their clients. There are always numerous data integration projects that are never undertaken because of time and resource constraints for IT and business teams. For many MSPs and consultants, self-service data integration in the cloud can be a faster means to solve data integration headaches for their clients.
Self-service data integration still has a long road to travel before it becomes an everyday tool for many business users. MSPs should look at creating services that help business users today, as well as in the future, to safely and smartly take advantage of self-service data integration as a route to improve the data needed every day for all levels of decision-making, innovation and other workplace requirements.
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About the author: Julie Hunt understands the overlap and convergence of many business processes and software solutions that once were thought of as "separate" – and how this impacts software Vendors and Buyers, as well as the strategies that enterprises implement for how technology supports the business and its customers. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitiveand on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting