I’ve been thinking about the cloud for a long time now, and while there is no doubt that it is here to stay for the foreseeable future, I’ve been asking myself… so what?

I know that it is seen by some as heresy to question conventional wisdom, and today’s conventional wisdom says that everything needs to go to the cloud. However, what is the benefit and what is the point? What are organizations getting out of a move to the cloud – because after all it is surely only being done to provide a business benefit??

So, as I see it, organizations are getting the following benefits out of a cloud migration.

  • Consumption based costs / charging
  • Ability to flex up and down in scale as business dictates
  • Removal of the need to manage infrastructure
  • Removal of the need to implement a software lifecycle management regime
  • A change from capex to opex and associated tax benefits

But… if everyone does this then how is it a ‘competitive advantage’? As I see it, you either do this or you become irrelevant. However once everyone has done it then they are all the same again… so there might be a ‘first mover’ type of advantage, but beyond that you need to do it to remain competitive with everyone else… OR you need to do something entirely different.

Back in the 60’s companies knew they needed these new-fangled computer things… but  lots of smaller organizations couldn’t afford them… so along came the idea of a ‘bureau service’ that sold computing by the minute / hour.. exactly like a consumption model. Then as time went on, computing became cheaper, and more organizations could afford computing, but probably more importantly, they could not afford not to have THEIR OWN computing as the bureau services were not flexible enough, or did not provide a competitive advantage as everyone was doing the same thing.

Then, along came the idea of departmental computing with midrange systems using Unix or vendor specific operating systems like IBM’s System 36, 38, AS/400. These came into vogue because the ‘big iron’ in the corporate computing center wasn’t flexible enough, cost too much, took too long to do half a job (sounding familiar?).

Finally, along came desktop computing which gave the end user ultimate control, albeit with very little in the way of corporate control which turned out to be the biggest issue (data security, corporate licencing, support of different versions, different applications, etc etc). So as organizations worked to resolve these particular challenges, they took back more and more control until the idea of the end user having any real control became nonsensical.

Along this ride the world also moved to fixed function terminals (dumb screens) and then to emulation of dumb screens on PC’s, and then to applications that accessed host data and presented in a more graphical way, and then finally on to web based applications… where the PC is really not much more than a – you guessed it – dumb screen.

So I hope that I have presented a case that the technology, while always evolving and changing, hasn’t actually done a whole lot for businesses besides causing them to spend money to stay compliant, safe (from a data safety perspective at least) and relevant, because it seems like everything old is new again, and it’s possibly the ‘change’ that is important, and not what you are changing from or too.

What does all this really mean??

Well, I think that what it means is that the most important thing a business can do for itself to continue to be successful is to provide products and services that their customers want, and do that in a way that is uniquely better or different to their competition. If that means a move to the Web, or new computing, or saving money by doing something in a different way, then of course those things MUST be done… just don’t expect that the shiny new toys are the savior of your business, because the real savior is going to be how you use and build on whatever it is that you have. It may be a case of throwing it all out and starting again, but from my experience that is very rarely actually needed.

I like to think of it in motorcycle racing (or car or whatever) terms… you can have the fastest bike out there on the track, but if you aren’t the fastest rider, you aren’t necessarily going to win!

And then of course there is that very hackneyed expression…. To finish first, first you must finish.

Comments always welcome!


Brett Redman