In the decade since I started in technology, the conversations about whatever is the technology flavor of the week have not gotten any easier. Over the years I've tried to explain how Linux is a great addition to the server landscape, why moving servers to hosting facilities provides value, and explained the benefits of collaboration with SharePoint more times than I’d like to count.   

During my last family get-together I was put on the spot about the value of the cloud. (I was at the kids table, but that's a discussion for another place.) This discussion usually works on two different levels: 

  • what IT is interested in 
  • what the end-user cares about

My family works in a mix of large corporations or as business owners, so I wanted to speak to both sides of the issue, without using too many techie terms.  

Cloud = 'Other People's Servers'

To start, I channeled my CTO David Seaman and changed the word "cloud" to "other people's servers.” Putting it in common language clears a lot of confusion and allows us to talk about value.

So whether they wanted to hear it or not, I spoke about the goals of an IT organization. IT wants to keep users engaged in their work, with no technological interference, and they're determined to allow access across multiple devices. It is also a goal for the entire organization to keep authoritative sources of data, and keep sensitive information and/or intellectual property secure, however people often misinterpret IT’s efforts in these areas as reluctance to move to the cloud.

How IT benefits:  

  • The "Other People" are providing secure and mobile applications for users to work on an authoritative document (It does not need to be stored, emailed or copied to multiple locations)
  • When "Other People" are creating and maintaining the infrastructure and applications, an administrator's/engineer's balance of time shifts from performing routine technical tasks towards directly supporting the business
  • The subscription cost model allows for long-term budgetary planning, to work with business departments to invest in technology that can directly increase workers' effectiveness in their jobs
  • The server room can be replaced by a foosball table. I joke, but there are a lot of larger server rooms, with dedicated power and air conditioning that can be removed and remodeled

Cloud = Flexibility and Features 

These goals and benefits covered the IT point of view, but what about what my family really cared about — the end-users and/or business owners.

Does this scenario sound familiar: "If I can't get to my documents, I'll just use a different method for storing documents, sharing with others and making my workflow flow.” So with a credit card and a the goal of effective collaboration, this employee puts his organization's content on a third party site without IT’s knowledge. 

While it makes perfect sense for the employee — he just wanted to be able to find and work with his information without worrying about underlying technology — this leaves IT out of the loophole. So while a move to the cloud can show immediate benefits for an individual, without IT's involvement, those benefits are short-lived and result in risks and siloed information. 

So what are the benefits of an organization-wide move to the cloud? 

  • Small business owners usually rely on "other people" in small to mid-sized support organizations to manage IT infrastructure. Working with Software as a Service (SaaS) like Office 365 you know that those "other people" are simultaneously supporting millions of others just like you  
  • "Other people" make sure that apps and applications are available on any device, from any Internet browser  
  • Not only are these tools available, but the information seamlessly follows you across all access points. An example, log-in to anyone's computer/phone using your Office 365 credentials and you will see the latest documents you've been working on — always. This saves a lot of time  
  • Previously a small business or individual paid up front for a limited set of features. Now the subscription cost model allows for a lower up-front cost and guaranteed access to the latest and greatest versions of all apps and applications   
  • On any given day, organizations use only 30 percent of the technology they have access to. "Other people" are listening to what users want and have the flexibility to combine different pieces of the ecosystem into new tools 

And organizations continue to deliver new value from the cloud. At last month's Dreamforce conference it was announced that the same processing power that stores activities in Office 365 will now be unleashed on the SalesForce.com platform to enhance its capabilities for a sales person's effectiveness. We’re witnessing the shrinking gaps between technologies as the politics between large technology providers (in this case Microsoft and SalesForce.com) fall away. Organizations are starting to realize the value of combined cloud services.

In my next article I’ll lift the covers on what the underlining services supporting Office 365 are, uncover the actual cloud processing that is serving our needs, and take a quick look into the applications and apps that are available now, or being developed for the near future.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Shiro169