To date the real value of the cloud – the transformational cost and performance benefits it brings to businesses – has been overshadowed by the technology debate. That’s hardly surprising. The cloud is exciting, protean and innovative, so it is only natural that the industry has focused on defining exactly what it is.
As a result, the specific benefits tend to be obscured in a fog of acronyms (ITaaS, DBaaS, SaaS, and so on), as well as debates over whether the public, private or hybrid model is best in any given situation. It seems that a platform designed to simplify businesses’ relationship with their technology has instead generated unnecessary confusion and complexity.
Just look at SaaS, for example. For some organizations SaaS and cloud are synonymous. In fact, as SaaS represents merely the baseline for cloud services that must ultimately be tied to other business functions to deliver the right business solutions.
However, as cloud matures, so the ongoing debates about the respective benefits of private and public cloud seem increasingly irrelevant. It’s now widely acknowledged that the various merits or demerits of public and private cloud are not inherent in each model; rather, it is about selecting the right technology, or (more commonly) mix of technologies for each specific use case. In some cases the answer will be a private cloud implementation; in others, a public; in others still, a combination of the two.
Similarly, any notion that on-premise applications and infrastructures will be entirely replaced by faster, less expensive and more agile cloud alternatives simply does not stand-up to scrutiny. The nature of certain business functions combined with the need to secure ever-increasing pools of business management and customer data means that some form of on-premise approach will always be needed.
Financial services organizations provide a good example. Much of the customer data they process is highly sensitive, making it unlikely that everyone will feel comfortable hosting their business applications entirely in the public cloud (although many of these firms do). Similarly, public sector organizations cannot rely solely on public cloud services because of the rigorous compliance requirements to which they are subject.
Businesses are becoming more practical about what should and should not be put in the cloud. As a result, a new and exciting era is dawning in the cloud debate. Technology itself is finally being upstaged by what really matters: understanding how and where cloud can make businesses more successful.
Business solutions have always had two clear goals: overcoming roadblocks or improving business performance and the cloud is no different. Determining what functionality is required will be the first step in deciding which platform is right for the business. As long as an organisation feels secure, the delivery system becomes less important.
Business leaders will need to balance their needs, constraints, and security requirements to choose which solution is best for them. An online retailer will more likely value agility above any other consideration, and be more inclined to run some mission-critical apps on a flexible public cloud platform. On the other hand, a multinational company, comprising brands under a single umbrella, will likely need to consolidate many of its processes internally for logistical and security reasons.
The potential afforded by taking this practical approach to the cloud is huge. Today businesses can already choose cloud applications from service catalogues to meet specific business challenges. For instance, an HR team can select from a range of talent management solutions to find a service that meets their selection criteria perfectly – whether that is cost or scalability. These capabilities will only become more powerful over time.
In the coming years it is likely that fewer people will buy complete off-the-shelf applications. Instead, I believe that business users will select components of apps according to their needs and integrate them into what is effectively a bespoke application. Businesses will be able to benefit from database-as-a-service to develop new applications in a public or private environment, depending on their needs. This approach is only possible thanks to the power of the cloud, but still at its heart is traditional business sense – understanding what the business challenge is and then finding the best way to address it.
The cloud is maturing, and the way that we view the cloud is maturing too. Businesses must worry less about which capital letters precede their cloud –as-a-Service and instead see the cloud for what it is: a channel for connecting business challenges with the solutions that address them best.
This is what we mean by ‘delivering business advantage with cloud applications’: it is about bringing meaning back to the cloud by demonstrating what it delivers rather than how it is delivered.