In a fast-changing world, every business has a pressing list of technology projects it wants to complete. But those plans are often derailed by the product roadmaps of technology vendors, when even a relatively small change in the IT landscape can lead to a key part of the entire edifice grinding to a halt. Suddenly a disruptive and costly upgrade to a core application looms, simply because the installed version, even though it’s running just fine, doesn’t support a more recent browser, protocol, or operating system.
One example is Microsoft’s current withdrawal of basic authentication in Exchange Online, in favor of the more secure OAuth 2.0. Already in place for some customers and due to be complete by January, the change makes sense for Microsoft, which has been warning it was on the cards for several years. But for organizations with older enterprise applications that can’t handle the modern authentication protocols, it’s a major headache that could require massive surgery to those core business systems. Eric Helmer, SVP and CTO at software and support provider Rimini Street, comments:
When these types of events in the IT ecosystem change, when [customers] call those vendors for help, the only option that they have is to upgrade. So because Microsoft is changing one little thing, they’re forcing customers to go through multi-million dollars and sometimes multiple years worth of disruption, to do a huge transformation or upgrade, that’s not going to really give too much functional value — there’s not a lot of new things in the new releases — simply so that they can authenticate their users. That’s just what a horrible situation customers are in for that.
Helmer’s company, which specializes in providing support and maintenance of older ERP systems from Oracle and SAP, offers a tool that obviates the need for that costly upgrade to the core business system. He explains:
We solve that problem. We do a proxy between the older authentication method with the new authentication method — a very lightweight proxy thing that takes very little time to set up — and you’ve just solved a potential multi-million dollar problem with something much more lightweight.
ERP interoperability with browser and OS updates
The tool is one of three components in an interoperability package the vendor launched this week called Rimini Connect. Alongside the email tool, there’s another to help enterprise applications work with new browser versions, and the third allows older application stacks to run on newer operating systems. He elaborates:
Having our solution in there will allow people to continuously update or change the browser completely, and use something that didn’t even exist at the time that ERP was created — we can do some pretty magical stuff — and allow that to happen.
The same thing with our Rimini Connect for operating systems. If you’re on an older version of an ERP, you’re dictated by the vendors that you can only be on certain certified operating systems. Well, we take those shackles off as well. We take those handcuffs off … Not only do you have to not worry about us [being] like the vendors that is going to hang up the phone on you and say, ‘Nope, you’re not on a supported operating system’ — not only are we going to support you, but we’re going to give you the tech that enables you to actually use whatever software that you want to.
Staying up-to-date with browser technology is a particular headache, as browsers continue to evolve — or in the case of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, completely disappear to be replaced by the newer Edge browser. In many cases, moving to more up-to-date browsers or Java versions becomes a security requirement as older versions become more vulnerable to malware, while retiring older browser versions also eases IT management and support. But if existing applications can’t work with those newer browsers, the IT organization faces a choice of either starting out on a long-winded upgrade project of those application stacks, or continuing to use the older browser versions. The Rimini Connect tool provides a third option, sitting between the browser and the back-end ERP system to translate the HTTP code into the form each side expects, so that older applications can co-exist with newer browsers.
The operating system tool provides libraries or container technologies that allow the ERP system to operate on a newer OS than it was originally designed for. There are several different use cases for this tool, as Helmer recounts:
This could be simply just an IT initiative to get off older operating systems. It could be a security initiative, if they deem that operating system is insecure, for some reason. It could be the desire to upgrade the hardware, and that’s going to need a higher version of operating system. It could be because they want to move to Amazon or Azure, and they don’t have the older operating system even available on those platforms, so they’re going to have to get the ones that they do. We’ve seen every single one of those cases.
Looking for visible ROI
With business drivers increasingly setting the pace for technology spend, IT organizations are far less ready to push for large-scale application upgrades than in the past, he adds. Instead, he says:
They’d rather invest that stuff into something that’s actually going to move the needle for the company, maintain a competitive advantage, taking market share [in] their customers, reducing costs, increasing revenue. Those are the things that people care about today, not upgrades of ERPs.
A demand for projects that deliver visible Return On Investment (ROI) is sparking more interest in finding workarounds that leave existing core systems in place while adding new capabilities around them. He explains:
When they’re not seeing the math line up over there, they’re looking for alternatives. ‘Okay, then how can we solve these individual particular problems in a different way without having to go through this thing that I can’t justify for an ROI?’ That’s when the mind starts opening up to, ‘Hey, maybe there’s other ways of getting these outcomes,’ whether it’s compatibility or security or whatever else.
The vendor offers a similar set of security tools, Rimini Protect, released in the summer. This offers Java runtime detection and remediation for applications and middleware, continuous database monitoring, vulnerability remediation for SAP applications and custom analysis and reporting of an organization’s cybersecurity stance. Helmer sums up:
It’s about taking away that risk, and giving people the flexibility and freedom to do what they want to … By future proofing with Rimini Connect and bullet-proofing with Rimini Protect, the combination of those things is really where somebody now can have the freedom to not change that ERP and stay on it for as long as they want to, without having the risk of the changes or the security attack surface being something that really compels them to make some decisions that they don’t want to make.
Increasingly, organizations are looking to maintain existing core systems in place so that they can focus on more innovative technology changes around them. Rimini Street’s new suite of interoperability tools is designed to support that roadmap, continuing its mission of putting customers in charge of their own IT destiny rather than letting vendors dictate when they should upgrade their ERP software. As I wrote last year, these emerging IT investment trends pose a threat to the revenue goals of the incumbent vendors, who are counting on an acceleration in cloud migration to trigger upgrade sales. Many of their customers have other ideas, and will be glad to see their options growing with the launch of these and similar tools.