When I first heard this term, I was as cynical as you’d expect me to be. As my own web-master put it, a couple of years back, “They couldn’t sell back-up services, so they’re calling it something else.”
But as the months have passed, it’s become apparent that – driven by the growth in mobile IT usage – cloud computing has some very big implications for businesses at every level.
Consider this statement from Gartner, the research gurus of the IT industry: “We’ve seen a big shift from what was mostly an on-premise world, where everyone runs their software in-house, to one where most people now go for a SaaS option.” (That’s Software as a Service for the untechnical).
And Forrester, the other industry gurus, have predicted that nearly 70% of organisations are either using or interested in implementing cloud-based solutions for CRM applications.
This has enormous knock-on effects for a number of business sectors. Like IT support and accountancy. Think how print and publishing has been revolutionized by digital advances: that sort of change is now permeating the entire IT sector.
There are naturally still plenty of businesses – particularly in the professions: law, accountancy – who don’t trust the security of the ‘Cloud’, but all the indications are that they too will eventually succumb to what looks like an irresistible trend.
So what are the pros and cons of this latest ‘big idea’?
NEBULOUS OR TOO BIG TO IGNORE?
Rather than trot out my usual ill-informed opinions (I know: why spoil the habit of a lifetime?) let’s have a few facts:
1. COST: The cabled-up, networked office is an incredibly complex affair, requiring all manner of specialist types to keep it stable, operative and up to date. Software upgrades (more money, natch); expensive IT support technicians (in-house or outsourced, or both) keeping increasingly ageing hardware (generally designed for a 3-yar life, but many are lots older and thus much more fragile) from crashing; investment in new kit.
With Software as a Service, you have a simple monthly payment per user (which goes up and down with the payroll), and all the rest of the caboosh, described above, is incorporated.
2. SECURITY: Most office networks are actually about as secure as my garden shed (don’t ask). Half of them don’t even change the factory settings. A child of ten (though not me) could walk through the rest in a few minutes.
Cloud-based software has in-built layers of security that are actually much harder to bust. And as for back-ups, whether kept on- or off-site, most organisations never check whether they actually work and data could be retrieved in an emergency.
3. PRACTICALITY: Once you’re on the Cloud, peripatetic working practices are massively simplified. When all files are accessible via any machine in any location (with the right access permissions) – including mobile devices like tablets – what actually is the point of that uber-expensive Head Office facility?
Sure, staff management is an issue, but given the problems of ‘presenteeism’ in many organisations, investment in proper job descriptions, roles/responsibilities and core objectives might just achieve greater productivity.
4. DISASTER RECOVERY: Over three-quarters of lost data is caused by hardware/system failure or human error. Oh, and 70% of businesses that suffer a major data loss are out of business in 18 months.
With the Cloud, you can be back up and running after fire, flood or pestilence – or any other major problem – from new premises (or the pub next door – in minutes.
AND FINALLY: While I’ve been considering this, I’ve had an idea. Our NHS has wasted literally billions on half-cocked IT systems that are supposed to link up all the necessary patient records and make them accessible on demand, whenever and wherever, but just don’t work.
Yet we already have a massive cloud-based piece of software that is used successfully by half the planet and which could do all the things that are needed, including pictures (aka X-rays), patient notes (private and public) etc.
It’s called FaceBook. For another billion pounds in his back pocket (or less if he’s feeling philanthropic), I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg could put the FB engine to productive NHS use – in weeks, not years.
David Croydon: 01844 238692 or e-mail email@example.com