This week’s edition of BusinessWeek contains an interesting cover story titled “The Cloud: Battle of the Tech Titans“. The author gives an overview of the tech companies that have embraced the cloud as the only way forward (Amazon, Google, Microsoft), and contrasts them with companies that view the cloud as part of the overall enterprise architecture, the so-called hybrid cloud (IBM, HP). Without taking sides, you don’t have to be a visionairy to forecast that the cloud is changing the way we work and how companies will select and introduce new technology.
There´s is an interesting dilemma concerning corporate technology that is somewhat overlooked in the article. And that is that the cloud is exposing the divide between corporate and personal IT. That´s also the reason that I think the cloud will win hands down.
Over years, companies have invested heavily in inhouse technology and that will prevent them from swiftly moving legacy systems to the cloud. They have tailored their systems to be just right for them. If they want to introduce new functionality, it´s necessary to invest time and money and start a project. They will spend hours detailing the required functionality and testing the solution and never get exactly what is wanted, because they have to build onto what’s already there. But, the final solution is made especially for the business and a source of competitive advantage – or that is what’s assumed. It´s time to take a step back and question if ultimately this strategy will provide a solid foundation to accelerate business growth, both from a financial and a time-to-market point of view.
Then there’s another issue: most corporate IT solutions are underutilized and thus expensive – you are hosting the solution on a single platform and you have paid for options that you will never use. If you don’t believe that, think about the way you use Word or Excel – how many of those nifty features do you use on a daily base? Have you ever used all of them? And do you think that’s any different for the corporate technology solutions that you are using?
Last but not least, there is the security question: how can you guarantee that sensitive data remains secure in the cloud? True enough, there have been several highly-published security breaches with cloud vendors. But don’t be mistaken, this happens every day at many companies, only we never find out about it. And with cyber terrorism on the rise, a cloud vendor is probably more skilled and has more resources at its disposal to ensure and monitor security, than a single company can ever afford.
The Cloud at Home
When you look at your employees, they have already embraced embrace the cloud for personal use. And why not? The cloud offers great solutions in all kinds of areas, like Gmail, eBay, Netflix, Zynga, Twitter, FaceBook, Tumblr, WordPress, Flickr, DropBox, the list is endless. All they need to get started is a user account.
Having worked in enterprise technology for many years, I find it easy to understand why cloud computing is attractive: it’s simple to set up and cheap to get. I run this website in the cloud for less than $100 per year. I do not have to worry about hosting or security, I can concentrate on writing posts. When I want to add functionality, I search the plug-ins that are offered and almost always find what I am looking for. If not, I program it myself or contract it out: it´s that simple. In addition, my personal IT is far more sophisticated than anything I get at work (and that´s true for most of your employees).
Thing is, I use all that state-of-the-art functionality at home, and I want my working live to match up. And that is where it gets tricky, because traditional IT systems can not be developed that fast – it takes time and money so as not to destabilize current functionality. It´s not how they were developed to be used.
The Cloud at Work
So if I can´t get it internally, but know it´s out there, why not get it through the cloud? As a matter of fact, using a corporate IM system restricts me in accessing knowledge, and thus the cloud IM is far more useful as I receive answers from my whole network. Sites like LinkedIn and Yammer offer business functionality that I can sign up for and incorporate in my way of working. I can invite my co-workers to participate and before you know it we have found a way to work together that would take months if we requested it through the official channels. And if we don’t like it, we move to another site, allowing us to use what suits best at any give time.
Ubiquitous access means that I can (and will) mix and match as I please: use the corporate systems for anything that must be handled internally and pick cloud solutions for functionality that is not available inhouse. As the cloud continues to evolve, company leaders as well as corporate IT departments must think hard about this: it’s only a matter of time before the cloud permeates the enterprise. It is the only way forward and it is unavoidable.
Of course you could forbid your employees to access cloud solutions, but there is no way (besides shutting down internet access) to prevent this from happening. And why should you? The bright side is that the cloud might actually support you in your IT strategy: gone are the days that you had to run everything inhouse – you now have easy and cheap access to a myriad of solutions. All you have to do is ask: your employees will tell you what they think are the best solutions out there. Think about how that could slash your IT budget and increase your time-to-market!