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It is a decade since the initial key elements of what we now call the Cloud started to impact on how we exploit contemporary ICT (Information & Communication Technologies). The ground breakers were outsiders to the industry – Amazon in e-commerce, Google in Search, salesforce with early CRM (Customer Relationship Management) services – each ‘breaking the mould’ by developing virtualised and highly automated data centre operations. Lead by Amazon with its Amazon Web Services, a market in computing power available as a service rapidly developed – and then the emergence of a growing diversity of software-based services available on demand, paid for as used – new commercial models. The old guard were caught off guard!
The Cloud Industry Forum (CIF – I have the privilege to chair the Forum) has published each year since 2010 a detailed statistical review of how the use of services sourced from the Cloud is developing. As of early 2015 the picture is clear – widespread and accelerating uptake but on a relatively narrow front – enterprises moving one or two key operational aspects of their business onto Cloud-sourced services – thus web sites onto Cloud compute platforms, or routine back office requirements onto Cloud-sourced ERP, CRM, HR services.
The CIF surveys are inevitably backward looking. One of the most interesting aspects of my work these days is as a judge for the UK Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) UK Cloud Awards and for the Eurocloud Europe Cloud Awards. Both exercises give me a forward looking insight into the staggering new diversity of innovation in Cloud-based services, business models, now being exploited. And if I combine these insights with those I have gained as a monthly columnist (/blogger) with IDG’s CIO Magazine since 2008, I can articulate an emerging pattern in, a new structuring of, the way that we are moving to source and exploit our ICT – and how it will impact on our businesses in a more radical fashion than the CIF surveys suggest.
Firstly the underlying technological infrastructure, the platform. All here is now becoming expressed as software (data storage as software, data processing as software, and now software defined networking – or SDN). Consequently new freedoms to design both capabilities and services: softwares can be integrated, virtualised, automated. Thus Cedexis Openmix – which optimises your sourcing of compute services as a business across the Cloud, moving you around in real time to whichever supplier is best at the moment (its strapline is real time, data driven, global traffic management).
I read the platform suppliers as in the business of volume services manufacturing. They are the likes of Amazon (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft (Azure), Salesforce (Salesforce1), Equinix, Databarracks, SCC, Skyscape……. Major cap investment plays, large factories: and I call them manufacturing operations because that is just what they are – driving high asset productivity from their fixed assets through virtualisation and automation, focused additionally on energy efficiency. Increasingly global in their geographic spread, frequently geographically positioned to be close to major client groupings (thus in and around the City of London and its nexus of financial services). Tight integration into high capacity telecom networks.
Increasingly the platform suppliers (of what in Cloud shorthand is called IaaS and PaaS) underwrite key aspects of service assurance for the businesses that exploit them – security and cybersecurity; data privacy, protection and regulatory compliance; business continuity and disaster recovery, IP protection. They set the frameworks of technical standards, some closed and some open, for others to follow and exploit.
Most importantly they operate horizontally across the myriad of specialised verticals that form our economy. They may be specialised in some broad arena (defence, financial services) but rarely in a particular specialised vertical.
So – secondly – the fast growing myriad of services (Cloud language – SaaS) and apps (applications) that operate off these platforms, ranging from back office services (such as Xero, Cloud-native ERP for the small to medium sized venture – reflecting its roots in its native New Zealand) to particularly specialised capabilities (such as DataSift, able to analyse ‘human created data’ (think social media) while protecting individual privacy – Facebook is a major client).
The expertise that drives these services businesses is not service manufacturing, but deep intimacy with the application area or focus – these are people businesses, exploiting key human insights into how the real world works and its expression in software enabled-services.
SaaS fills the arena of Cloud-sourced services. In the fast exploding world of the mobile, it is the Cloud-enabled apps (applications) that rule. Ofcom research reported in the FT of August 6th shows that, in the UK, ‘Smartphones are now preferred to laptops for going on line‘. A key tipping point! And world of the smartphone (and of the tablet) is the world of the app – also based on deep (human) experiential intimacy with the intended operation of the app.
And alongside SaaS and App there is important innovation in key capabilities – thus fedr8 which provides the means to analyse the core code of legacy systems in terms of its transformation into Cloud-native code. Such capabilities are vital to delivering an effective enterprise transformation into the Cloud.
The prime focus for this explosion in capability has hitherto been Silicon Valley. A detailed current review of this phenomenon has just been published in The Economist (July 25th): ‘Empire of the geeks – Silicon Valley should be celebrated. But its insularity risks a backlash‘.
The review focuses on the conflicts increasingly being caused as Silicon Valley ventures crack open established business models and their regulatory frameworks. Think Uber! Consumers ‘enjoy their taxi-hailing apps, music streaming and voice recognition software‘. But will attitudes shift, The Economist challenges, as consumers better understand the degree to which the Valley ‘dominates markets, sucks out the value contained in personal data, and erects business models that make money partly by avoiding paying taxes’.
The review recognises that there is now a rapid development of competition to Silicon Valley (read the recently published book The Flat White Economy that scopes the recent revolution taking place in East London!) but details just how increasingly disruptive the Valley remains in business terms. However, all the companies I describe above have roots outside Silicon Valley.
That long-established business models are being cracked open is a reality (think retailing, publishing) – and one that is now threatening an ever widening spread of businesses. But the key insight I have now gained from my judging is that the new Cloud-based architecture of services now provides the means to rapidly re-invent and re-launch a business if that is the best way forward – a wide range of building blocks and tools available with which to rapidly create and express new business models (this is, after all, how the fast growing start up drives itself):
Underlying integrated data storage/computing/networking platforms to provide the strong foundations;
- The ever growing universe of specialised Cloud-sourced services and Cloud-serviced apps with which to build and elaborate the business’ operations;
- New capabilities with which to rapidly create specialised services and apps that align closely to delivering key business objectives:
- and new capabilities with which to rework, transform and migrate the older legacy digital ‘fabric’ where required and justified.
For the contemporary enterprise (/public sector/third economy) to move and reshape ‘into the Cloud’ requires a transformational journey – a journey that is about technology, but about organisational and cultural change (think social media!). The Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) has developed a conceptual map of the 21 key elements of this journey. Grouped in 5 broad categories, this provides access to a well-categorised library of relevant white papers and related reading. CIF is collaborating with Bloor to develop this capability as a service, including with the provision of focused workshops and advisory services – and the development of e-learning services.
The purpose of the CIF/Bloor collaboration is to provide the means for each enterprise to be able to chart its migration into the Cloud. This is not an exercise requiring the mega consultancy teams of the Big 4, or the sourcing contract with one of the major ICT suppliers (conflicts of interest there!). It requires the well informed in-house team, deeply intimate with their business, working with a leavening of external expertise to advise, challenge and assure.