The word “cloud” typically conjurs up images of white fluffy things in the sky which occasionally produce rain, but by now we all know that in a modern computing context it’s really just how we portray the idea of internet-connected datacentres doing the work of local servers, and serving those results out to clients like laptops, smartphones, tablets and desktop PCs.
Those internet-connected datacentres have made their presence felt in the world, in huge ways. Anyone who owns a smartphone has used them; popular services like WhatsApp, DropBox, Facebook and anything Microsoft does these days wouldn’t exist without them, and humans the world over consume the services they facilitate every day, often without even knowing they’re doing so.
Business has benefited the most from this new computing model, as cloud applications and the services they enable have helped businesses cut down on expenses by removing any need to run their own server infrastructure, while boosting their ability to deliver results through apps and services from the cloud.
As a direct result of this cloud integration, organisations are leaner and more agile than ever, profit margins are higher, and carbon footprints are lower – all major wins in the 21st century and vital components of running a successful business.
Basically, using the cloud to further business objectives is a no-brainer.
Or is it?
In my time at Tarsus on Demand, I’ve discovered that awareness and knowledge of what the cloud is, and how it benefits business, is not as all-pervasive as you might think. There is still much resistance to the idea of adopting anything cloud-based, especially in businesses that have established revenue models that don’t involve heavy computer use.
A lot of that is because those organisations are comfortable doing what they’re doing, the way they’ve always done it, but it’s extremely frustrating for me when I know, from personal experience, just how beneficial a mind-shift towards cloud can be. And not only that, but I see too how business models that have worked for years are slowly being eroded and undermined by new ones that do everything cheaper, faster and better – all facilitated by the cloud.
Through this, I’ve discovered what’s necessary to light the proverbial fire under businesses disinclined toward cloud: a mind shift. But more importantly, a mind-shift that comes from the top tiers of management.
Of course, shifting paradigms is a multi-tiered – and challenging – task. First, management needs to be convinced of cloud’s benefits, as it pertains to their specific business. This is the easy part, really – it’s simple to show how other businesses have benefited with case study after case study showing, in detail, exactly what transpired after they switched.
It’s hard to argue with cloud being a smart and financially-beneficial move when company X, which was turning over R1m in 2014, makes the move to cloud and then posts multi-million rand revenues in subsequent years.
And exactly that has happened, many times. I know, because I’ve seen it.
Hard work involved
Once the seed has taken root properly, the hard work starts: management must establish a cloud strategy that is constructed in such a way that it will not only solve existing challenges and streamline processes, but carry the business forward into the future as well.
Essentially management needs to take a hard look at their business, and, with the help of cloud experts, identify those areas that don’t necessarily need help and those that could benefit from having some part of their function or processes moved to the cloud.
The most vital step in this entire process, from my perspective, is for management to buy into the cloud computing vision 100%. Without that absolute buy-in and push from the top down, any cloud vision or strategy will simply fall flat.
The quickest win
I’ve found that often the quickest win, and the easiest way to demonstrate how a move to the cloud is so attractive, is to convert a business to using Office 365 – a subscription-based productivity suite that makes extensive use of the cloud – in place of buying the software outright. Shelling out for that software can be expensive, especially as one license is needed for each computer it must run on.
Office 365, meanwhile, costs a comparably small monthly fee per user and can potentially cost a business a lot less over time if there are a lot of employees needing Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
By going for a cloud-based solution, businesses always have the latest version of Office programs, they pay a much smaller amount per year per Office user, they get plenty of OneDrive storage to use as they see fit and they can make full use of Office’s cutting-edge productivity benefits all year long. It’s a win for everyone, and that’s only a small slice of what a full-on journey to the cloud can offer.
And for businesses that have already made the move to the cloud, or have built new revenue streams atop cloud-based services, it’s important to realise that even having had the foresight to adapt to the cloud trend doesn’t mean their work is done.
No, cloud is a continuously-evolving technology, and the services that it makes possible and the ways in which customers consume those services are in a constant state of flux, which is why it’s so important to stay informed of what’s going on.
In the distribution space, for example, it’s no longer the done thing to simply take products to market based on hardware specifications. Before cloud, all that was required was to keep an eye on hardware specs, inform the market of products with newer, faster, better hardware, and the job was done. Well not literally, but in a broad sense you could say that’s what we did.
Today, distribution is a whole other animal; sure, we still sell hardware, but specs aren’t the be-all and end-all. Instead, distribution is now all about the value-adds, the services we can offer our customers that make their buying, owning and servicing experiences as good as they can be. If we rested on our laurels and merely continued selling hardware as the rest of the world caught the value-added services wave spearheaded by the marvellous things the cloud enables, we’d have been dead in the water years ago.
The point I’m trying to make here is that cloud is a fantastic enabler when implemented appropriately, and a brilliant mechanism for growth, increased revenues and even a path to new revenue streams as customers find new ways to consume its services.
Cloud lowers running costs, provides rapid scaling at the click of a button, and can help businesses provision services internally and to customers faster than ever before. Ignoring it or simply clinging to the way things have always been done is simply not a wise course of action from where I’m standing.
While cloud isn’t the answer to every business question, an informed application of its benefits, both within a business’s internal structures and as part of the services offered to customers, can go a long way to keeping the lights on for many years to come.
Murendeni Mbedzi is the Tarsus on Demand CSP Product Manager