This article was previously published in TechZone 360.
Remember when “the cloud” was something exciting and ill-defined? Well now the cloud is almost as normal as traffic jams or email attachments. It’s something that most businesses are using daily. Data storage is free or nearly free. Google, Amazon, Box and Dropbox all have similar enough features that they’re practically interchangeable.
With data storage commoditized, businesses today are asking what else the cloud can do to make them operate more quickly, cost-effectively and successfully.
Making the Leap
Businesses are adopting cloud services at breakneck speed, as a recent Information Week report shows. Adoption of IaaS is at almost 40 percent. SaaS is up 12 percent over last year. The driving force behind this increase is savings on capital and operational expenditures. That hasn’t changed since the early days of cloud storage adoption.
What has changed is how the cloud can help companies achieve those savings. It’s no longer simply a matter of how many gigs of data you can store for how few dollars. Businesses are now asking themselves: “How can the cloud help us collaborate better? How can it keep us secure? How can it add value to our own clients?”
All indications are pointing to collaboration as the next layer on the cloud stack. With consumers judging both mobile apps and websites “by their covers”—the average website visit lasts less than a minute—it’s more important than ever to keep apps and web content constantly updated and also create new value-adds in the form of online services. The explosive growth of Web APIs is just one piece of evidence showing how hard providers are working to get everyone connected.
What’s the foundation behind a fast, “sticky” app or website? A good team. What makes a solid team? Collaboration. And that can’t be achieved with any kind of speed when your content is scattered around email, IM, FTP, intranets, CMSs and elsewhere. The ability to comment, edit and track documents in the same place is paramount. Otherwise you’re hunting and pecking to make updates happen, while your competitors are a well-oiled cloud collaboration machine.
When it comes to good collaboration, the proof is in the platform. Saddled with content silos, workers invent workarounds to get their jobs done, and those shortcuts aren’t necessarily good for the team. From creating documents in one place and storing them in another to keeping distribution lists of who has what version of Office so they can send files in the correct format, these workarounds create a mish-mash of pseudo-protocols and content holes as employees take data from one place in the cloud and perform some combination of emailing, transferring and uploading.
These solutions get used again and again until who knows what versions of which documents are floating around. This is all because the places where data lives aren't necessarily the places where people work with it. No wonder IT departments are prioritizing solutions that allow data to live in one place no matter what's being done with it.
The Need for Familiar Interfaces
Just as Amazon's consumer UI has been replicated around the web for ease of use, users need a familiar workspace to let them collaborate with people down the hall—and around the world—without worrying about location or language barriers.
The next level of buy-in happens when business apps offer the same ease of use and sharing as consumer apps. In order to work quickly, users need to avoid thinking about protocol required to collaborate. They need to autopilot into familiar online territories: the familiarity of Office, the ‘Likes’ of Facebook, the feeds of Twitter. No wonder Microsoft has been working so hard to integrate Yammer and Box into Office365. It’s also why Octonius has taken a bold step in bringing together access to Dropbox, Google Drive and Evernote in a single app. Enterprises need these tools to be intuitive and familiar so employees have the ability to be productive – whether they're at their desk or at the airport.
Collaboration as Competitive Advantage
The cloud is definitely speeding things up. It used to take IT days to provision servers. Thanks to the cloud, this process has been winnowed down to minutes in some cases. If the cloud can do that for the back-end, imagine what we will we be able to accomplish when we can really work together in virtual space.
Beyond IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, the next level is everything as a service. Ideal solutions will integrate the ways people use technology in their personal lives with the way they work. In a global economy, work is no longer confined by office hours or the office walls. To stay competitive, speed is everything. Having easy ways to collaborate will keep you ahead of the pack.
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