Anyone out there bored of the cloud yet? Here’s the spoiler – despite the marketing barrage, I’m not, and here’s why…
Saying the cloud is a ‘game changer’ or a ‘transformative technology’ is a touch passé. We’re all experts. Move on. But let’s remember that universal trend for disruptive technologies (yes, it’s kind of like a Gartner Hype Cycle) that sees them:
1) Disrupt conceptually (“Just look at all the cool stuff this could do”)
2) Disrupt marketing (“We’re going to give you the coolest stuff”)
3) Disappoint (“So was it all just bullshit?”)
4) Disrupt in reality (“Look, I just bought some cool stuff and now I want to show off about it”)
In this instance. I’m looking at it from a marketer’s perspective. With the cloud, there was an early sense of some far off future, told to us by an impossibly smart product marketing or R&D professional somewhere. Before we blinked, there was a marketing and PR onslaught geared up ready to make this the next big thing (we probably all contributed to that, right?). Then things went ever so slightly quiet. Shit… no one had really bought into it yet.
Sure, iCloud improved for consumers, but businesses weren’t spending the big bucks, so scepticism endured. In fact, ‘shadow IT’ was the panic of the moment for a lot of firms, where cheeky scamps from marketing or sales were using cloud-based services such as Salesforce to manage their workloads. Then, finally, a few unicorn brands – and the odd brave traditional business – became case study heaven. Their companies openly and assertively became cloud-based. And so it would seem the dream is alive and well.
The problem is that across most sectors, businesses are still very much caught between vision and reality. Between the old and the new. They have data, customers, products & services, applications and their own employees that are geared for the cloud, and those that are not. This can lead to disrupted thinking and incomplete strategies. It all sounds like a lot of hassle – so is it worth it for another technology fad?
Cloud matters (NB I resisted ‘head in the clouds’ or other such pun)
The reason cloud is a bit different from the other major technology trends of recent years is that it isn’t exactly a trend. It’s a paradigm shift (yes, I went there). And it’s not just important on paper. In real life it’s changing the way that people procure and deploy technology. It’s changing the way we work. The way businesses budget. The way we understand security and privacy. Even how much we really care about the IT we use on a daily basis.
Let me quickly set aside any doubts that there’s enormous momentum in cloud. Our chums at Gartner have got a pretty clear view on things: “Through 2020, an increasing percentage of annual IT spending will be directly or indirectly impacted by a cloud shift, making cloud computing one of the most disruptive forces in IT markets since the early days of the digital age.” So let’s assume we’re now well and truly in the phase where people are putting their money where their mouth is with cloud.
But thinking more about why we should all care – particularly as marketers and business owners – cloud is relevant on a day-to-day basis in our professional lives in ways we, perhaps, didn’t expect. It’s not just a means for the IT guy to scale up storage. It’s changing everything we do. We use the cloud, to sell to people through the cloud, who want to buy stuff in the cloud. Life is cloud-based.
No room for cloudy thinking (sorry…)
Now, you may have already picked up that I’m a total convert to a cloud-based model of working (our industry is particularly well suited to it). So I’ll try not to labour this conversation too much. But let me pose three cloud-based (truly cloud-based as this was written in a document stored in Google Drive) questions:
1) Do you embody the cloud-based world into which you’re selling?
2) Are you truly secure – cloud or no cloud?
3) Can you justify the cost of not being cloud based?
So let’s have a think about what all this means to a totally normal business, like ours.
“Do you really embody the cloud-based world into which you’re selling?”
Cloud is a central focus in many businesses’ strategies, as well as the vocabulary of the consumer, so truly understanding life in the cloud is important in speaking a common language. If you don’t get how a business can use the cloud, or why normal people use the word, you’re selling into the past. And more than that, cloud thinking is how the wider ecosystem thinks. If you’re a creative marketer looking for a rockstar developer to do something game changing for your global corporation, it has to be cloud friendly. There is a huge tension is business technology between the old and new worlds – which is why CIOs are still struggling to truly identify their cloud strategy. Marketers must live and breathe the new world, even if they’re still having to live with the old.
This concept of thinking in cloud terms is critical for growing businesses and the marketers who help build them. When you look at the success of Pokémon Go, you may not have thought about how critical cloud scaling was to its success. Software developer Niantic, who created the global phenomenon, relied on the cloud for its expandable and adaptable service model. In the old world, the infrastructure costs and lea times would have killed Pokémon Go even before it really took off. Now we’re not a developer-led organisation, but even for us as a small consultancy, the ability to grow out user profiles and storage at the click of a button has been advantageous. The time saving and ability to do things faster brought by the cloud is essential to reflecting the ‘nowism’ of modern business.
On the same level, the language of business today is now infused with mobile and flexible working. Enabling your team to live and breathe this way of working is a self-replicating positive. You’re meeting people on their terms, you match your customers’ behaviours and – in raw business terms – you gain efficiencies. We’ve seen the massive increase in productivity that results from true mobile and flexible working by having our business on Google G Suite. I wouldn’t go back. It’s not often I hear people pleading to have their files accessible from their desktop or a clunky VPN.
“Are you truly secure – cloud or no cloud?”
Cloud has promoted a lot of conversations about security. After years of concern, it seems the tide has turned and the consensus is that cloud security is getting pretty damn good. The very fact the debate has been triggered has led to a rise in both security-centric service providers and in the leading vendors making some pretty serious commitments to their own security capabilities. For the end user this is great, because it provides a low or no-effort ability to improve your own situation.
I don’t know about your business, but we couldn’t afford to employ a whole workforce of people to manage our IT security. You only need to look at the sort of investments made by the major cloud providers to see that a resilient cloud is the absolute priority. This means that as a cloud user we effectively have a team of 700+ engineers who are focused on security across the platform we use. I’ll take that as a fair basis to say ‘we trust our infrastructure.’
But it’s not just about the servers that hold our data (we work with some leading security companies so I’m being careful here). Corporate vulnerability is a far more complex programme. Going into the cloud and changing our way of working prompted us to think about our security protocols – how we manage access to documentation, reduced need for paper and memory sticks and ensuring we take the precautions we need when out and about. All of this has made us more aware of and more confident in our cybersecurity.
“Can you justify the cost of not being cloud based?”
Let’s do the boring bit (boring, unless you’re responsible for growing the bottom line). Most firms get sick of the licensing and on premise IT costs associated with a traditional approach to IT. Now the cloud is not always treated as a cost saver – it may actually be more about flexibility and scalability. But competition in the market is making the cloud model incredibly price competitive for collaboration tools, data storage, infrastructure and big data tools. We’ve axed our on premise kit and never looked back. Enough said.
More excitingly, marketing (and business in general) is more data-driven today than ever before. But there’s also bucket loads more data than most businesses know what to do with. Here the cloud isn’t just about a like-for-like cost saving exercise. With most businesses lacking the teams or infrastructure to capitalise on the big data trend, you may find that you can simply procure the right tools through the cloud. There are some incredible data crunching capabilities available – for example Google’s cloud video analytics that enable you to mine a database of videos by theme or keyword. Data firm Nielsen has launched its own AI service – showing how sophisticated cloud usage in marketing is starting to become. This is about the cloud giving you access to tools and technologies most simply couldn’t otherwise afford, but probably need to properly target your market.
Stating the obvious is sometimes important
Nothing I’m saying here is new – I’m well aware of that – and I suspect that a lot of the marketers reading this will have spent many an hour waxing lyrical about the cloud. But until you really think about how fluently you’re really speaking the language of the cloud, you may not truly be tuned into the needs of your customer base or the business you work for. You might be further behind your competitors than you think. So don’t get bored by the hype. Become a part of it.