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The clouds come together with a data integration solution

Midmarket cloud adopters are in need of a data integration solution that can ease the flow of information among cloud applications and on-premise systems.

Now that many midmarket companies have led the march to cloud computing, they are in need of a data integration solution that connects cloud-based data with on-premise systems. The goal is to not only make sense of this disparate data, but also gain access to it in real time, to create new services.

Take AWPRx, for example, an Altamont Springs, Fla. provider of a Software as a Service-based application that manages pharmaceutical dispensation of workers' compensation prescriptions. Less than a year ago, the company was hand-coding enhancements to a data integration solution to link its 10-year-old Oracle J2EE data center with cloud computing space on Inc.

Months ago, however, CEO Jay Roy implemented an Amazon Elastic C2 storage solution with a new version of Jitterbit Inc.'s integration software designed to work with Inc.'s platform. APWRx is now completely in the cloud, with prescription approvals in real time, Roy said.

"Salesforce is where it all happens, but Jitterbit is what allows Salesforce to communicate to the rest of the world," Roy said. "Our clients communicate with us all the time. Our job is to control the process for our clients so [injured workers] get what's medically necessary."

It works like this: an injured worker takes his prescription to the pharmacy, which logs onto AWPRx to verify the co-pay amount and determine whether the medication is authorized or needs a prior approval. AWPRx's business clients provide the company with information on new injuries qualifying for medication benefits; Jitterbit grabs that and pulls it into Salesforce, where it is available to 60,000 pharmacies on the network.

"Jitterbit allows us to know which injured workers are eligible [for meds] and which aren't, and keeps our clients apprised of pharmacy activity," Roy said. "In workers' comp, it is all about fraud management and containment."

Being able to integrate data from the businesses, where workers are injured, to the pharmacy network is critical, he added. Workers' compensation is a reactive business model; 45% of injured workers seek medical treatment before notifying work. It's in the doctor's office where workers realize that an injury is work-related and probably falls under their workers' comp policy, he said. "They've already sought treatment and everyone reacts," Roy said. "Such is the chaos of my world."

First steps toward data integration may be slow

The need for a cloud-to-on-premise data integration solution was evident among attendees of last week's meeting of the Boston chapter of the Society for Information Management (SIM), which hosted a panel on cloud computing. While the cloud allows midmarket firms to dial up a service in hours, getting data to the cloud can be slower than one might think, according to Michael Draper, global director for Platform as a Service Operations at Pegasystems Inc., a cloud services provider in Cambridge, Mass.

"Some cloud providers will not allow you to attach a leased line, so you have to use a public line," Draper said. "Moving data from on-site to the cloud, you could go from hours to days."

Draper shared at SIM that "FedEx will take a storage device and [physically]deliver it to a cloud service provider, so you can plug it in and be in the cloud." The large group attending the session -- at 450 members, the Boston SIM is twice the size of other chapters -- chuckled at the concept of a Sneakernet for cloud computing, to which Draper responded, "the industry still has a way to go with regard to integration with the data center."

New products tout ease of use

However, data integration tools are coming down in price and bulking up with ease-of-use features, making them more attractive to midmarket firms. Oakland, Calif.-based Jitterbit belongs to a new class of tools that make integrating data and business processes more intuitive and graphical, eliminating the need for additional coding, experts said. Cast Iron Systems Inc. was a chief competitor to Jitterbit until IBM snapped up the integration firm earlier this year.

No matter which integration tools and methods are adopted, data is still the key.

Julie Hunt
Julie Hunt Consulting -- Advisory Services

CloudSwitch Inc. has a service that allows IT to transfer data from on-premise systems to the cloud without re-architecting the application, or changing systems management tools. Iron Mountain added to its data management capabilities, including data integration, with the acquisition of Mimosa Systems, and Pervasive Software Inc. has its Pervasive Data Integrator, for application deployment in the cloud or on premise.

There are well-known integration tools designed for enterprise-class companies from vendors such as Informatica Corp., but smaller companies might not know that dozens of integration tools exist for various parts of the cloud-to-premise puzzle, according to Julie Hunt, an independent market researcher and analyst in San Marcos, Texas.

"No matter which integration tools and methods are adopted, data is still the key," Hunt said. Understanding how the company's data matters -- not only to immediate projects/processes, but also to the long-term plans and success of the enterprise -- is essential to understanding which tools will be the best choice, she said. "Until recently, most companies have used data integration solutions to solve tactical problems, but it's really time to focus on strategic planning and utilization."

With Jitterbit, AWPRx has cut its integration budget by more than 80% and saved extensively on internal training, support and development costs by moving applications off its own Oracle J2EE data center and onto the servers of its cloud computing partners. The company has nine people in IT for a company of 35; a third work full time on Salesforce; one person does Jitterbit work, tweaking processes; two people are dedicated to the Amazon environment; and three are part-timers who work on client support.

What's next? "Trying to involve the injured worker even more directly," Roy said. "Our job is to meet our clients' requirements, but at the same time, our clients need to find a way to help [their own] needs. We'd like to get the workers more involved by pushing information to them, without compromising information."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.

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