There has been much commentary this week in response to what the Wall Street Journal has called ‘Larry Elison’s rant’– that cloud computing is a hyped term for the stuff we have all been doing anyway. There is of course some truth to that. ‘We’ – the whole IT industry – have been gradually building the means to absorb business IT into the Internet for a while. Gmail isn’t brand new, nor is MS Live, Amazon EC2, AppExchange, Skype or Oracle On Demand.
But there is a reason it’s worth having a collective term such as ‘the cloud’ (our definition for which, my colleague David Smith has blogged) and some buzz around it. We have to simplify the business proposition behind this ‘big shift’, explain it well and socialize it deeply to convince non-tech business leaders to buy-in. That’s because CIOs don’t have sole authority over the decision to move in this direction. There are other CXO collaborators and co-signatories. So far, I think this is the best we have come up with. Surely we don’t believe that offering to explain Grid, ASP, SaaS, Ajax and the rest of the growing acronym soup is really a better option.
Think back to the start of this decade, to a time when business IT was really booming and world-wide IT budget increases averaged over 15% rather than the 3 to 4 % we see today. I’ll suggest it was big ideas packaged in simple terms – like CRM and E-Business that helped CEOs digest what the the IT department was trying to tell them. Yes these have indeed been very, very big umbrella terms and some junk creeps in at the edges – but IT departments usually know how to filter that out.
What IT departments are are not so good at is articulating the big, collective and increasingly integrated move towards remotely hosted web-borne services from office tools to biz apps and telecoms to storage. They need help explaining the fundamental change towards an ‘I don’t care’ mindset about exactly where and how things are hosted and operated, which trades-off perceived risk for the scale economies of workload aggregation. Having a friendly term to collect and embrace this big-deal evolutionary step in commercial IT helps.
It’s too simplistic to say cloud hype is bad . If we are technically expert is might irritate us with its breadth and abstraction, but we are not the only audience. Somehow the idea has to cross the corridor into other business departments and that’s just as likely to be via a Business Week article or even (dare I say it?) an airline in-flight magazine. Whether we like it or not, repeatedly promoting a basic collective term through broader media has a long history of overcoming corporate resistance and inertia in ways IT departments can’t do alone. ‘The cloud’ is a BIG idea, its a reasonable visual metaphor and most of all its not an acronym. It may not be perfect, but if it captures the imaginations of a broader audience of decision makers we should cut it some slack. IT must remember that even its biggest ideas compete for mind-share with other major strategic change and improvement options – like moving to the Chinese market, restructuring the finances, building a new headquarters, or re-branding.
Of course all new technology terms must be throroughly tire-kicked by market discourse and the hype cycle makes the coming trough of disillusionment for cloud as inevitable as it is necessary. But sustaining belief in this particular term just a while longer before we all trash it, might be the path of elightened self interest.