Reservations about the cloud appear to be dissipating, with more and more organizations transferring their processes and business-critical data to the public cloud. Experienced cloud providers can be trusted just as much as companies’ own data centers – perhaps even more so – to ensure that data security and data protection regulations are followed. Furthermore, thanks to machine-learning technologies, cloud solutions are becoming increasingly intelligent, offering every user real added value.
Nevertheless, very few companies have succumbed to the temptation to transfer everything to the cloud as part of a “cloud first” strategy. Instead, hybrid scenarios, which involve deploying both cloud-based and on-premises systems, are becoming more and more popular. Indeed, a growing number of companies see hybrid scenarios not as a transitional measure, but as target architecture combining the best of both worlds.
Cloud is a building block of digital transformation
Many organizations take a pragmatic stance towards using the cloud in business processes, treating it more as a building block of digital transformation than as an end in itself. The overarching goal is to make processes simpler, faster, more transparent, and more efficient by digitizing and automating workflows.
As they are fast, flexible, and easy to access, cloud services can fill in gaps, preventing the kind of friction often caused in organizations’ local systems and process landscapes resulting from incompatible media formats.
Yet on-premises solutions also have an important place in hybrid scenarios, as, in contrast to the public cloud, they can be precisely tailored to each organization’s unique requirements. When deciding where and how to use cloud and on-premises solutions for business processes, the key question organizations should ask is: Which approach most enhances each workflow?
SAP, for instance, advises its customers to pursue a two-tier ERP strategy, whereby the ERP system runs on premises in a company’s headquarters or in the private cloud, while branches and subsidiaries requiring fewer or other functionalities deploy public cloud solutions.
Another approach involves transferring highly standardized processes that do not require much customization to the public cloud. Examples include an incoming mailroom, document capture process, and archiving.
Cloud native is the way to go
For organizations wishing to use cloud services, a “cloud-native” solution such as the xSuite Cloud Platform, which was designed and optimized specifically for the cloud, is a must. Based on modular software architecture deployed as microservices and docker containers, cloud-native solutions use application programming interfaces (APIs) for communication.
This ensures scalability and makes it easy to integrate existing systems and processes. Availability and interoperability of APIs is essential when mapping hybrid scenarios. The same applies to cloud-to-cloud and multi-cloud approaches.
AI is simplifying decision-making processes
Cloud-native solutions feature agile development approaches and an integrated DevOps team. Aspects such as these ensure that processes run smoothly and that new functions can be deployed quickly. Public cloud solutions can harness the potential of swarm intelligence, as they are able to access a much higher number of data sets than on-premises systems or private cloud solutions.
AI technologies such as machine learning make these solutions more intelligent. As a result, the solutions are steadily getting better at making decisions at various steps of a procedure, which in turn simplifies the processes connected to it.
Today, companies can choose from a vast array of cloud providers, so they have an excellent chance of finding one that is a perfect match. The right provider is one that has expertise in a company’s specific requirements. A provider might specialize in a particular process – think procure-to-pay – or a particular type of task – digitalization of documents or document management, for example – and may serve a specific platform such as SAP.
Companies should also check whether the provider employs experts specializing in their own industry or company size. A provider with expertise and experience in a company’s requirements is more likely to have the right solution ready to go. It will also be able to provide more targeted advice on the entire business process than a large cloud provider offering a broad but less specialized range of solutions.
Since at least May 2018, data protection has been a top priority for organizations looking for a cloud solution. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation presents a challenge, but it also gives users of cloud applications added security, as it applies to both companies and cloud providers. To be on the safe side, companies should sign a data processing agreement with their provider.
Hybrid cloud scenarios: an example
So how exactly might a hybrid scenario work? Let’s take the example of processing incoming invoices in SAP with the xSuite Cloud Platform.
- All incoming post, regardless of format (analogue or digital), is sorted in the cloud using machine-learning technology and put into categories such as Order Confirmations, Agreements (with suppliers), and Invoices. On the basis of these categories, documents are forwarded to the responsible employees or receiving systems. For example, invoices are immediately filed in the xSuite archive (as the SAP archive) in the cloud and simultaneously sent on for document capture.
- Document capture is also performed in the cloud. The next step, validation, can be performed either in the cloud or in the on-premises SAP system.
- The next stages of processing an invoice—coding, completion, and approval—are performed in the local SAP system.
- The final workflow log is securely filed together with the invoice in the xSuite archive in the cloud.
In this scenario, the company enjoys the advantages of the cloud, such as the ability to work quickly from anywhere, yet it also benefits from the more customizable features of a local SAP system.