The news about cloud computing is astonishing – new companies are appearing almost daily, new services are being developed and offered, existing companies are quickly filling holes in their products, and new connections among cloud companies are being made.
But the most exciting news may be that users can actually self-provision all the services needed to run and operate a company with cloud-based applications - without an IT department and without a basic computer room.
All that is needed today is a laptop, a fast Internet connection, a credit card, and you can have the computer services outlined below – everything from accounting/ERP (NetSuite), HR (Workday), Project Management (Basecamp), Email (Gmail), CRM (Salesforce), Calendaring (Google Calendar), and several flavors of document management (Box.net, MS Office 365, GoogleDocs). In fact, given a little bit of work, there are companies that will connect Basecamp to NetSuite so that you can transfer project financial data between the two applications.
The Company of the Very Near Future
Worried about the lack of IT? Don’t be. There are even cloud-based IT services companies that you can bring in to manage your cloud environment and help you with any of those pesky IT related problems….but you may not need this because each cloud company has a support staff and site with robust on-line support and, since these types of sites are “configurable” offerings, there is not much that can go wrong. Configurable means that all of the basic choices you have are presented to you as options or selectable configurations. Box.net, for example, offers you the ability set security options, version options, and other options with a series of dropdown boxes and radio buttons. Most cloud-based applications operate this way – preset configurable options that the user can select.
The downside to a configurable solution is that the application parameters have been set by the vendor and you cannot “customize” the application yourself or add new attributes to an application. For example, let’s say you want to version documents as 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 2.0, etc. and the application you are using only provides a version history of 1, 2, 3, etc. You will not be able to customize the application to meet your needs but you can make a product suggestion and try to have your suggestion implemented in the next product release.
The real benefit of having access to these diverse applications is that a company of any size can compete with larger companies and technology is no longer an issue. Today any startup can harness the computing power and capacity of any larger company – processing power, storage, development capabilities, communications reach – and is truly only limited by their own capabilities.
As to what is next for cloud companies – several trends are beginning to emerge:
Special applications are beginning to appear – much like an ERP application, companies are building records management applications, security applications, HR applications, ediscovery applications, and paper scanning applications, etc. There are future applications around governance and security that are also in the works. Expect to see more of these applications appear in the coming year.
Existing cloud applications will get better and better. Many of the applications we have today are still in development mode and the companies are learning what is needed by their customers and making changes to their products. What is so nice about the cloud applications is that you leave on Friday, come back on Monday and a new version of the application has been installed.
Cloud applications will begin talking with each other. For example, a company may use a paper scanning application to scan documents and once in a cloud repository, the documents may be OCRed by a cloud OCR service, indexed by another service, and a retention schedule applied by a third service. This may be one of the more exciting developments in the cloud industry and will certainly enhance document management capabilities.
Environments and Platforms are emerging. Some cloud services have developed a complete desktop environment including office productivity, calendaring, project management, social networking, etc. Once you log in to an application like this, there is no need to leave the application and it will become your regular desktop for work. The down side to this is that it is a very closed environment and doesn’t lend itself, yet, to all the tools that a power user may have on his/her desktop and use on a daily basis.
As usual, it is prudent to do your “due diligence” on any company that you may choose to use: Ensure that they are a financially sound company, putting as much into R&D as possible, and that they are responsive to customer needs - don't hesitate to ask for and call references.