Just two weeks after Mohawk Fine Papers made the decision to sell its products on Amazon.com, integration work was complete, connections to its ERP system lit up and sales started rolling in. "Amazon generated tens of thousands of dollars in revenue immediately," says Paul Stamas, vice president of IT at the $83 million, 725-employee manufacturer of premium papers.
Best of all, the data integration project, which cost less than $1,000 to get off the ground, required no in-house investment in integration tools or staff resources.
Instead, cloud-services provider Liaison Technologies performed the integration work, then set up and currently manages the connections through its cloud-based service.
Two years ago a project like this would have been handled as just another point-to-point EDI integration. But the Amazon deal and the more than 100 other business-to-business (B2B) connections that Mohawk has set up through Liaison over the last 18 months represent the culmination of Stamas's vision to create what he calls a service-oriented architecture in the cloud."
But is it a cloud?
Is a cloud service brokerage really a cloud-based service? A cloud's architecture is optimized to respond quickly to sudden, large changes in workload demands.
A cloud typically consists of a highly standardized distributed computing architecture, uses virtualization to create an elastic infrastructure that can automatically provision and de-provision resources in response to changes in workload demands and includes usage-based metering for chargeback or pay-as-you-go billing.
In the case of Liaison, the bulk of its revenue comes from people-intensive integration and data management services, which it lumps into two groups: professional services for initial integrations, and managed services for ongoing support. Only the subscription piece, which maintains all of the connections for Mohawk and provides a tool for monitoring those, leverages the benefits of a cloud architecture.
What a CSB does is not elastic, says Gartner Inc. analyst Benoit Lheureux. "But the reality is not all workloads and cloud deployments require it." A strong increase in transaction volume for a CSB is more likely to be in the range of 10% a year overall, he says, and CSBs can scale to meet that demand.
The bigger challenge lies in scaling up the professional staff. "Liaison's biggest problem is hiring the right skills to add to the fulfillment group for things like mapping, EDI, XML and RosettaNet," he says.
From Mohawk's standpoint, to focus on the technology is to miss the point. Stamas doesn't care about technical details such as virtualization, economies of computing, elasticity of demand or pay-for-use models. Those are Liaison's problems. Mohawk pays Liaison a flat annual fee plus an hourly rate to set up each integration, most of which come in around $1,000 or less.
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