Disappointed with the cloud?

12 10 2011

A recent eBizQ question has sparked this post, essentially it asked “Why are so many disappointed with the cloud?”, and this question was based on the fact that few organisations have made the move to the cloud, and those that have, many are stating they are disappointed with the results…So why would you be disapoointed? After all, it does what it says on the tin…

 

Cloud variants

A big problem is what do people mean when they say the “cloud”? If we take a look at the big players here, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, we see 3 different interpretations. Amazon deliver IaaS, which is Infrastructure as a Service. So essentially they deliver you an infrastructure for you to leverage as you please. This is very different to Microsoft’s Azure take on things, in which Azure delivers PaaS – Platform as a Service. Think of IaaS as your physical servers, all connected with nothing on them, and think of PaaS as physical servers, but running the server OS. Essentially Azure is the operating
system for the “cloud”.

Unfortunately, “cloud” is a very broad and “loose” description, so organisations must understand what type of “cloud” they are leveraging or buying into.

 

Expectations…

First off, let’s remember that the “Cloud” isn’t a solution, it’s just another platform. As a company you didn’t purchase Microsoft Windows Sever and expect it to solve all your IT needs did you? The “cloud” is a platform, nothing more, and yet as a platform it has capabilities that just aren’t available anywhere else.

Convenience, or something more?

Some argue that Cloud can be seen as IT convenience, which is true to an extent. If you view the cloud as nothing more than convenience, then you will no doubt also argue that the cloud makes far more sense to small organisations, as opposed to mature companies that have invested heavily in data centres – effectively providing them with cloud like capabilities. In many cases this is
very true, I myself have written posts illustrating reasons why the “cloud” is not applicable to some companies or IT solutions. Yet, “cloud” is more than just convenience, it’s about scalability, availability, reduced administration and reduced IT overheads. If you are a mature organisation, then no doubt your data centre will be specified to meet your maximum demands placed on it, as it
has to. For most of the time this means you have a lot of “spare capacity” and in effect, are wasting money. With the “cloud” and especially PaaS, you only pay for what capacity you need at that time. So you can quickly scale to meet demand peeks, but when you have little demand, your costs decrease as you lose that spare capacity.

We also have to look at capabilities here, using “cloud” based solutions we have a real option for continuous connected availability across a range of devices. We can share “state” between devices etc which makes it far easier to jump right back into work, where I was, even when I swap from my work PC to my work tablet or laptop at home, heck even to my Phone.

 

Security

This is a big issue, and unfortunately many security concerns are simply invalid. The cloud doesn’t mean open access to all! However, in some cases, compliance and regulatory demands mean you cannot jump to certain cloud providers or solutions. For example, for compliance you may well need to keep your data stored in your geographic location, so you can’t have it physically residing in the US when your company and the owners of the data are in the UK. That will include your data back too. So, you need to be aware just what your cloud provider is doing with your data / files, and make
sure they can meet your compliance needs.

 

Cloud based solutions

The big problem why organisations are disappointed with the “cloud” is the actual applications, their capabilities and user experiences. To be blunt, most cloud based “apps” pale when compared to traditional desktop based applications. Why is that? Well it’s mainly down to implementation of the software application, nothing really to do with the “cloud” as a platform.

Most “cloud” solutions are fully in the cloud, so essentially you access them through a browser. This is a massive problem and hindrance, and for business, web applications just don’t meet the needs. I don’t care what anyone says; running software in a browser is ok for only a handful of solutions – not for everything. Some of the problems with web based applications are listed below, and these are real problems and cause for disappointment with cloud based solutions at the moment:

  1. Integration – how do you integrate multiple solutions? How do you integrate a cloud solution with standard desktop bound solution?
  2. Customisation – do you really have an option to have your software customised to your needs? Again probably not, as the solution is there for “all – in the cloud”, not just you
  3. Cross platform – HTML 5 is what keeps getting mentioned, but the issues still remain about how it performs within different browsers. In addition, think a bit wider. Does HTML based apps really deliver what you want cross platform? Think “cross devices”, how can you get the best user experience across multiple devices and their operating systems. Think PC, Mac, Windows Phone, iPhone, Android, Tablets, Laptops, XP, Win 7 etc
  4. Asynchronous – many web based apps aren’t really Asynchronous, which means your user experience can suffer, especially when you are making round trips to the cloud and back (same problem applies to basic websites that are implemented poorly)
  5. Data Extract – what is available, does it meet your needs, and whats the user experience here
  6. Synchronisation – Can you synchronise between devices and return to your application in the same state?
  7. Backup – what backups and formats can you get?
  8. Application upgrades – will you be charged for upgrades?
  9. Service Level Agreements – just what agreements can you get in place?

 

Improving the cloud experience…

So I have spent some time highlighting why organisation may well feel disappointed with the “cloud”, but now I want to point out how cloud providers and more importantly, software vendors, can replace disappointment with real excitement…

First off, your “Cloud” provider, you need to choose carefully, make sure you understand what they are providing (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS capabilities) and then understand what they do to meet you compliance needs. Take into consideration what you want to deliver via the “Cloud” – does your desired solution even work in the cloud or on a particular cloud platform?

I personally recommend the Microsoft Azure platform, simply because it delivers far more than just typical PaaS, it delivers brilliant development tools, application capabilities and synchronisation capabilities (it is also tied in pretty tightly with the up-coming releases of Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 – keep that in mind).

Windows 8 leverages Cloud capabilities heavily (Microsoft's Azure)

Windows 8 leverages Cloud capabilities heavily (Microsoft's Azure)

Secondly, and most importantly, choose “cloud” solutions that leverage your devices – so that’s your actual PC, Mac, Phone etc…The big change is how we use the “cloud”, moving away from a single UI within the browser to an actual “application” solves so so sooooo many of the issues highlighted. So what do I mean?

Cloud based applications need not run in the “cloud”, they need only be distributed or leverage cloud services, data and content. So the application is installed and runs on the device, accessing cloud services, data and content. When we move to this model, you see how usability, experience, and capabilities all drastically increase. So:

  1. Integration – This is made a lot easier, real application integration can take place, be that using cloud services in another application, or actually sharing data on your device between applications (this can be taken further with Windows 8 and the use of contracts and charms)
  2. Customisation – Customising applications for a client is made a lot simpler, it becomes something that is in essence, not that different to customisation of typical desktop in house applications today
  3. Cross platform – well the iPhone has shown us that using platform specific technologies deliver the best user experience. Would you rather use the iPhone app for that, or trundle off to the website. You will use the app. So this is no different, deliver “Apps” for the desired platforms and HTML 5 for platforms where you will not support apps. (Remember, that you are not maintaining multiple versions of solution code, rather multiple front ends, nothing more)
  4. Asynchronous – Running typical applications allows developers to really use asynchronous capabilities within their solutions, improving performance and the user experience, not to mention
    dodging the browser time out issues
  5. Synchronisation – with apps you can leverage the cloud to then store your synchronisation data, which makes it possible to synchronise your applications across all your devices in real time
  6. Upgrades – these are made easier, even for customers who run highly customised applications

 

Quick finish…

Essentially, disappointment in the “cloud” is actually disappointment caused by “cloud” expectations being wrong, choosing the wrong cloud provider, or using cloud solutions that are limited, limited because they are stuck in a browser…With time, we will see greater understanding of what cloud providers actually provide, greater understanding of IaaS vs PaaS and we will see software providers delivering “apps” as opposed to just browser based solutions.

See the cloud as a platform, nothing more, and choose solutions based on their capabilities for meeting your business requirements. Good cloud based solutions, that leverage apps, will not only meet your expectations, but will offer you more features, more functions, less administration and ultimately run at a cheaper cost for you…

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Should ROI hold much weight?

9 02 2010

When working as a consultant I often get asked about ROI, and how best to calculate this. Now when working for previous companies, this had to be done (especially when in a pre-sales phase) and I can see clearly why. Like anything in business, if you can show something is worth doing from a money point of view, then it is likely to get done.  

But how much weight does ROI calculations actually hold? I have read a couple of blog posts about this in the past couple of days, some of which see ROI as a complete joke and pull no punches in saying so. Have a quick read of this article submitted by Alan Peiz-Sharpe (@CMSWatch on twitter) http://www.cmswatch.com/Trends/1798-ROI-Joke

Working as an analyst myself, and also as a technical guy, I can see Alan’s point, ROI calculations are very vague and often based on presumptions. But does this mean they are no good at all? I beg to differ.

Business Case                                                                       

Ok, I am not saying use a ROI in the traditional term. I see ROI as an illustrative tool when looking at smaller parts of a business case. So when investing in IT, make sure you draw up a good and detailed business case for the solution you are purchasing (lets use ECM here as this is more of a specialist field of my own). Building a business case is not easy, especially for ECM and don’t think that a couple of hours on line reading up on ECM is going to help you write a good business case. This is an area that I often help businesses with, and it is one where businesses should really look to outside help if they can.

Ok, so you have a good case for your business, one which looks at the business benefits of the system and technology available, one that looks at what is the best fit for your organisations (don’t get hung up on price at this stage).

Where to use ROI type calculations

I never use ROI calculations as an argument for anything, especially for something as large as a complete solution for an organisation. (Many of the problems with these are illustrated in Alan’s post – though typically these are user case presumptions, over optimistic calculations etc). So where do I use these types of ROI illustrations…Well I use them based on “cases”. 

So let’s look at what I mean by a case. Ok, let’s say you have all your content stored in paper, and unfortunately your storage area goes up in a nasty fire. What is the estimated cost to your business of this? Don’t try to actually put a value on this, but imagine if you had a good ECM system you know you don’t have this as a problem for you. So in this case, your real ROI would be whatever you would saved in this scenario, which is more than measurable money….Don’t like that one?

Ok, what about the cost in fines to your organisation if you are found to be “non-compliant” to government legislation – with a particular solution you would be compliant. Is the fine greater than the investment? Yes – so the system is therefore a good ROI in this case scenario.

You can keep on doing this, looking at smaller business scenarios within your business case for a particular IT solution (doesn’t have to be ECM) and carry out ROI type of illustrations. You can of course be tempted to actually place monetary values in your ROI scenario illustrations, but please, if you do this, be very cautious and make sure you get your “variables” as accurate as possible. Let’s look at a quick example…

An example is monitoring how long it takes an individual to locate a paper file. Now obviously this is going to be different each time that person searches for a file – sometimes it will be on their desk, or the desk adjacent to them, it may be filled correctly, or it may be miss-filed or worse still, missing. So, take an average of that person’s time spent looking for files over a couple of days. Then spend the same period of time monitoring a person using an ECM system to locate files. What’s the time saving? I would use Time as my ROI in this case and let others put a price on this. Why? Well though you can put a price on this time saving, does it actually equate to that money saving? You still pay that person the same wage do you not? So the only way to calculate a real saving is looking at efficiency gains in this case, and that can be tricky. Though in theory it is easy, what actually happens when that staff member has more time to do their work? Do they actually work harder and faster? Or do they only marginally increase the amount of work they complete – actually, do they get given anymore work because they are working more efficiently or do they still only receive the same amount of work to do… You can quickly see how ROI as a money calculation can come back to bite you later…

Conclusion…

Basing any investment, especially on IT based on an ROI calculation is asking for trouble. Instead look at a valid business case that may contain scenarios which will illustrate areas where investment return can be measured, not necessarily in hard cash. Within my blog you will find a number of posts on ECM savings, some of which do look at scenarios and cases where monetary values could be added, however, my aim is to make illustrations and put forward a business case, rather than a simply ROI calculation…