Cloud is at an inflection point, but let’s get things clear

BusinessCloud9On behalf of EuroCloud, I’ve just posted over at BusinessCloud9‘s revamped site.  They’ve gone for a new, clean and simple style and simple logo, which looks good.

At the start of 2011 a number of things are happening in the market, and particularly the UK, that mean Cloud Computing is at an important inflection point.  The Cloud is about to become a mainstream approach to be considered not just by CIOs, IT departments of larger companies and the tech savvy early adopters, but for the average business woman and man in the street too.  They are on the receiving end of some significant new marketing of the Cloud topic, but as usual with our IT industry, we are too steeped in our own jargon and hype, and that makes us lousy at getting the message across in business terms.  Let me try and explain.

The first significant thing is that 2 weeks ago Sage, the UK’s biggest software supplier to accountancy and small businesses, finally released their first real online accounting solution.  It looks like a proper SaaS/Cloud offering, unlike the hosted Online 50 product sold through a few resellers from 6 years ago, or their previous failed attempt of SageLive in 2009.  I would argue that because of Sage’s market acceptance in the SMB sector, their Cloud offering marks a significant milestone in getting online, Software as a Service solutions accepted by mainstream businesses and practices in the UK.
The new Sage One  product, developed from scratch using Ruby on Rails technology,  is positioned below the rest of their on premise software range , and is aimed at very small businesses.  It looks like they don’t want to disrupt their existing licence and support revenues, although they are talking about moving other products in to the Cloud within 2 years.  I would argue this product looks good, but their move to the Cloud is too little too late here in the UK where there are already well over 50 SaaS business and accounting players in the market.   However, all the competitors I’ve spoken to agree Sage’s endorsement of the Cloud helps the whole sector.
The second point struck me when I was walking out of London Underground’s Bank station in the city last week. Every tunnel and exit was plastered wall to wall with adverts for Microsoft’s Cloud Power.  If you attended the Business Cloud Summit,  looked at any technology publication recently, or checked out YouTube you will have seen the new campaign, which I understand was put together by the Deutsch agency.  I don’t have a problem with Microsoft spending big on this kind of advertising to promote name recognition.  Business people coming out of Bank station to the city’s financial institutions will be left in no doubt  that this Cloud stuff must be important, but I don’t think many of them will be able to fathom what it’s for.  The campaign’s great for promoting the Cloud term though.
The third thing has just been highlighted here on BusinessCloud9 in the article The Practical Cloud: Salesforce.com’s SuperBowl touchdown.  As that piece quite rightly says, Salesforce had the opportunity to make as significant an impact as Apple’s famous Macintosh commercial did back in 1984.  They’ve used cool animation and the even cooler Will.I.Am to explain their approach to Cloud collaboration with the excellent Chatter product.  That sounds great until you watch the adverts.  A 30 second Superbowl slot costs around $3m.  They’ve spent getting on for $7m on a campaign which looks like they never tested it on the target market. I’m an insider and Cloud collaboration evangelist and the message wasn’t particularly clear to me.  I can’t figure out what they were trying to say to the average Superbowl viewer, although it’s another push for name recognition of the Cloud topic within the general populace.  Touchdown? – what a wasted opportunity!
Lastly, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the average business person who wants to find out what the Cloud can do for them.  What do you get if you Google the definition of Cloud Computing?  Today I got 3 paid for  entries from HP, Microsoft and IBM followed by Wikipedia’s entry and then probably 25 further definitions and explanations.   Those big company entries were definitely the most confusing.  Go look at those 3 landing pages and you’ll see they are trying to address multiple audiences with multiple messages.  The Wikipedia entry was fine, and there was a certain consistency in a number of the other definitions, splitting Cloud Computing in to Software (as a Service), Platforms and Infrastructure.  Now for this kind new innovation it is inevitable that the industry can’t agree on a precise definition, and actually that’s not that important either.
I see two main problems.  The first is that every solution provider’s marketing department is jumping on the Cloud bandwagon and positioning whatever they’ve got as Cloud.  That’s something we just have to live with whilst helping people pick out the good from the bad.  The second is the age old problem of us providers talking technology and jargon when we should be talking business benefits.  It’s always been this way.  We’ve confused business people with our explanations of mainframes, minicomputers, distributed PCs, client/server and outsourcing, so why should the Cloud be any different?  Well let’s try.  There are some great messages hidden in all of this marketing, but above all else, at this inflection point, we need clarity on what the Cloud can do for business.

(Cross-posted @ Business Two Zero)

David heads up D2C, a consulting firm which provides business and social media consulting as well as advising on Cloud based solutions for accounting, content, collaboration, and web publishing. He is Chair of the UK's Intellect Software as a Service Group, a director of EuroCloud UK, on the governance board of the Cloud Industry Forum and a regular speaker at social media and Cloud Computing events including chairing London's Cloud Computing World Forum in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He has been appointed to the governance board of the Cloud Industry Forum. David organizes London Wiki Wednesdays, was one of the founders of CreativeCoffee Club and was part of the team that started Amplified (the Network of Networks). LinkedIn TwitterFacebook