Ray Owens is the first to admit that he's a cloud convert. For nearly 20 years, the founder and president of DX Marketing, a Savannah-based market intelligence company, had been using on-premise software to manage client data. In 2015, he was given access to the National Consumer Database. He was extremely grateful to get it - part of his company's work is to create customer profiles for his clients, so the more data the better. However, Owens had a huge concern. His software couldn't store and analyze the 260 million records.

It was then that Owens started thinking about the cloud. He needed a database solution that could house those records, but he also wanted analytics software, business intelligence tools, and marketing capabilities that would allow him to use this information properly -- all at a price point that would not negatively impact cash flow or net income.

Not surprisingly, finding the right cloud solutions and getting them to work with other systems made him nervous. "When it comes to the cloud, there are so many moving parts and so many players," he said. "Everyone has a piece of something and making sense of it is wildly impossible."

While he ultimately pushed through these concerns -- he now uses a suite of Oracle products, including its analytics, database, and marketing solutions -- integration headaches are preventing other SMBs from fully implementing the cloud. In a recent Inc./Oracle survey of the leaders of America's fastest growing companies, nearly 44 percent of respondents said that integration across products is the biggest obstacle in their ability to embrace the cloud.

One reason for this may be that point solutions that reside in the cloud are great at doing one thing...solving one problem. So business owners need a range of solutions to meet all their needs, said Vikas Anand, Oracle's Vice President of Integration, Process, and API Product Management. Having to manage several cloud systems can seem daunting. "Each application has its own way of interacting with other systems, and the personnel skill sets required to manage different applications' integration capabilities span beyond what most companies can reasonably manage," he said.

Integrating cloud and 'on-premises' systems can also be a challenge. "Access between cloud and on-premise systems requires long discussions with security about risk profiles that further complicates the task of connecting applications," he said. "This makes the connected enterprise a vision that is complex and difficult to achieve."

However, integration is not nearly as challenging as most SMB executives think. Owens figured it would take months (and a lot of heartache) to get these various cloud programs up and running, but when his Oracle representative told him it would take only a handful of weeks, he was floored.

Oracle uses an Integration Cloud Service that easily connects applications together, said Anand. Users access a common web-based interface that allows them to quickly move between different applications, and they don't need to get bogged down in the specific details of each program. It also allows them to seamlessly transfer data between applications. "This consistency means that only a single focused skill set is needed to create and maintain integrations between software applications," he said. "It also simplifies the task of connecting on-premise and cloud applications," he adds.

Another way to ease integration frustrations is to put a single person in charge of the cloud, said David Linthicum, a Senior Vice President at Cloud Technology Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting company. That could be an IT person, but companies may also want to create a separate group to manage the cloud. Having a centralized spot where decisions are made makes it easier to control which software is being used across a business (therefore eliminating rogue IT purchases). And one person can be tasked with ensuring the integration process runs smoothly. "We are seeing a trend where companies [of all sizes] are moving away from a chaotic implementation to more centralized control," he said.

As overwhelming as cloud integration and adoption may seem, those who can get past these perceived barriers will be rewarded, said Anand. Connecting sales and financial cloud applications, for instance, will speed up time-to-market and improve operational flexibility; data duplication will become a thing of the past. "They'll get a real-time view of their business," he said.

For Owens, the move to the cloud has been transformative. His company has been able to react faster, its data analysis has improved, it is spending less money on technology, and business has never been busier. "We've onboarded more new business in the last six months than we have in the last five years," he said. "It's been amazing to see."

To learn more about how a fully integrated suite of cloud applications and technologies can help your company "get going, get better, get ahead", watch our newest on-demand video (based on the joint Inc. / Oracle survey) - The Technology Driving the Inc. 5000.

Published on: Apr 13, 2017