Two of the recent trends in both the consumer space and enterprises are cloud computing and social media. Even though both these technologies are not the same, there is some common ground between them. For starters, these two trends represents a new way in which users can do computing and/or communication. Both these technologies tap into the ubiquitous access to internet and make computing/communications easy and all pervasive for the users. Some of these similarities makes it easy for users of cloud computing to learn from social media and vice-versa.
The critics of Cloud Computing gleefully point out that we lose control by moving to the clouds. Even though this assertion is right, the spin that usually follows these assertions are a clear case of fear mongering. Yes, we do give up control over to the cloud vendors but we also end up getting a new ubiquitous way to do computing which we will not otherwise be able to access without investing huge amounts of money. This understanding is crucial for people who are considering the cloud path. Once we understand the limitations and opportunities of a new computing trend, it can be better utilized to gain significant competitive advantage.
Having understood the above point clearly, there is something we, the cloud users, can learn from social media gaffes. Since social media shares some of the aspects of clouds like
- Ubiquitous Access
- Lower Barriers To Entry
- Less Control by the Managers in a business
etc., I am going to highlight one gaffe from social media and talk about some of the comparable issues on the cloud computing side. This is about how the managers in the businesses have less control over how their employees use cloud computing tools. I will use a social media gaffe example and argue about the importance of educating the users about potential pitfalls if they use the tools carelessly. Such an education can go a long way in ensuring the security and privacy needed for the businesses while taking advantage of the benefits of cloud computing.
Recently, we saw an employee of ABC tweet about a comment President Obama made off the record about Mr. Kanye West. Clearly, Mr. Obama was talking casually with the employees of ABC network and it was not intended for public. An over-enthusiastic ABC employee with access to Twitter client tweeted about it immediately and the rest is history now. There was a similar incident from the other side of the world where the minister of state for external affairs in the Indian Government (equivalent of Dy. Secy. of State in US), Mr. Shashi Tharoor, got embroiled in a controversy that could open the eyes of managers in the government and businesses about the ubiquitous technologies like cloud computing and social media. Unlike many of the Indian politicians or members of the government, Mr. Tharoor was using Twitter as a communication tool to communicate with the citizens of India. Without going into the details of murky politics and whether Mr. Tharoor was right or wrong, it is easy for us to see that a simple tweet had the potential to get the official fired and embarrass the government to which he belongs. Unlike the traditional approaches where the government officials are briefed about what to talk and not talk, social media makes it easy for such gaffes. This is not just a case of embarrassment for the government but it could embarrass or, even, destroy a business. The absence of firm firewall leads to a complete lack of control for the managers in the government and enterprises on what their employees will/can say in these social media sites. It could be a simple thing that leads to a PR disaster or something big that has the potential to benefit a competitor.
Similar troubles can brew among the users of cloud computing too. When people use cloud based apps or store data on the clouds, they do it outside the complete control of the enterprise managers. For example, an employee using Google Docs may inadvertently share a document to someone inside/outside the enterprise who is not supposed to access the document or make the document public so that search engine crawlers might land them on public search results. Well, there are options to stop sharing of information to anyone outside the domain but the advantage of cloud computing is to share documents seamlessly with customers and other vendors. So, some companies might not use the option to restrict the sharing to within the domain. The danger of the document going into the wrong hands due to a mistake by an employee is real. The very fact that such applications and data are ubiquitous and can be accessed using a wide range of devices only makes the problem more difficult.
I could see the critics of cloud computing gleefully waiting for me to finish this post so that they get another chance to pounce upon the cloud paradigm as something insecure with a potential to destroy government/business. Well, that is the old fashioned fear mongering akin to saying that one should not use automobiles just because there is a potential to get into an accident. Whose loss it is if you decide not to go in an automobile because of the possible dangers to your life? If anyone falls victim to the fear mongering by the critics of cloud computing, it is their own funeral because they are going to be the one among the few who will lose out because everyone else is reaping the benefits of the new technology.
This brings into focus the important topic of avoiding such pitfalls. If you are a government or a business trying to adopt cloud based apps, it is important to define proper guidelines for sharing of information/data. More than developing good guidelines, it is also important to educate users about the pitfalls and the importance of being careful about what they share and how they share. This situation is more akin to how government and businesses handle passwords. There is no way we can protect the passwords of users in a foolproof way. Even if the managers ensure a secure computing environment, some careless user may end up losing their password to social engineering techniques. As in the case of password security, the managers should draw up guidelines to minimize such troubles. A proper training will at least help those users who are not interested in abusing their access.
If anything these social media gaffes teach us, it is about understanding the potential pitfalls of the new technologies along with their numerous advantages. Then such an understanding should play a role in developing proper guidelines and training process. If any government or business fails to understand such pitfalls, they might end up with embarrassing or devastating moments.