I took part in a cloud panel discussion with Google in London this week where we debated the recurring themes of; who is better suited to the cloud, small or large businesses, and how should you plan a transition to the cloud.
Contained within both these topics are cumbersome, often labyrinthine technical discussions which seem to endlessly orbit around issues such as security, data security, data protection, the commercial viability of your provider, their service levels, their service uptime, on premise, virtualization, software as a service, software plus services, co-location, hybrid cloud, private clouds, pricing models, public clouds, government clouds, cloud standards, more cloud standards, cloud industry charters, corporate bandwidth capping…
By which I mean much of the universal debate about the how, who, when and why of the cloud seems to be sponsored by either enterprise business Chief Information Officers (CIOs) or classic, on premise software businesses. Large and medium-sized business CIO’s who yearn to obtain the benefits of cloud computing if only they didn’t have small countries’ worth of existing IT infrastructure and complexity to transition across. And classic software execs (who supplied all the existing IT infrastructure) and who are frantically yanking on the handbrake of change that threatens their cosy retirement aspirations.
For someone who has spent the last twenty years in the world of small business software and whose brain’s cognitive state is set permanently to INSTANT GRATIFICATION – it’s all very tedious and frankly I’m just glad that I’m neither a CIO nor responsible for the future survival of a classic software business.
But a dichotomy does exist around the cloud that is worth debating, because meanwhile on the other side of town, small businesses are just getting on with it. Generally speaking, for most small businesses, cloud computing is a simple commodity style purchasing decision that shares a level of buying complexity that’s on par with upgrading the office coffee machine.
But for me the most interesting part is not how easy it is for a small business to get going compared with larger companies, but how I think small businesses could begin to mobilize their operations against larger competitors by using new technologies to out-perform more complex competitors whom I suspect will remain trapped inside their own “Is cloud computing right for us?” vortex for some time to come.
I’m blown away by the prospect of small businesses being finally able to employ at the flick of a switch innovative, best practice processes that previously would have cost an arm and a leg in Business Process Automation consulting, never mind the actual software licenses to execute them.
Simple things like automated billing which to a customer embodies public utility levels of process efficiency, only from a two-person property management start-up operating out of a spare bedroom. Or daily, rules-based automated cash flow management and reporting that no business, large or small, has ever enjoyed.
While cloud computing will ultimately, if slowly, leak its way into big business where it will all but completely displace classic IT, it’s the small businesses who individually and collectively stand to gain the most today.
Scale has always mattered in business, and it still does, but I think the polarity of that argument just got reversed by cloud computing.