Late on a summer morning recently I got a call from my wife saying “On Point,” a public radio program, was doing a show on about cloud computing. “Isn’t that what you write about?” she said. “You should listen or call in.”
Well, I tried, and all the lines were jammed, but I was able to make a comment on the Web site. It was a funny show in some respects, though short on laughs. The guests were a Harvard Law School Professor, Jonathan Zittrain, author of The Future of the Internet – and How to Stop It, and Kara Swisher, technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Quite a group — they had many credentials, but the show struck me as shedding more heat than light.
Much, but not all, of the show was dedicated to the dangers inherent in cloud computing such as data security — something that we dealt with several years ago with the introduction of SaaS 70 audits. But this was a show aimed at Main Street, where cloud computing sounds exotic and the Internet is barely trusted.
The ‘What If’ Stage
Interestingly, part of the discussion revolved around what big corporations like Google, Microsoft and many others would do if they got their hands on our data and let the government have its way with it. Salesforce.com, a company that I believe started a great deal of the cloud discussion, only received a footnote, lucky them.
The show, its callers and especially the people who left comments provided some great insights, though you really need to read between the lines to catch them. For me, the show revealed how early we are in the process of converting to cloud computing. I often forget that because, heck, I have been studying and writing about various aspects of the cloud since the beginning of the decade.
I came away from the program wondering if the public is really ready for cloud computing and concluded that, yes, we’re ready, but no, all of the kinks are a long way from being worked out. The no part is far more interesting to me because it is so typical of a new paradigm, which cloud computing certainly is.
A new paradigm really gets going when people ask a lot of “what if” questions and conclude that there might not be enough adults in the control room; it matures when the most obvious holes have been plugged and we are reasonably able to trust the paradigm to do its job. If that’s true, the audience response tells me we have not reached nirvana yet.
Evolution of Standards
This all reminds me of the introduction of standard time-keeping. Prior to standard time and the time zones that we take for granted, every town and village set its clocks by local mean time, which simply meant taking a reading from the sun and setting your watch at noon. Local mean time resulted in a huge number of local times and caused needless complexity for train schedules. When the railroads adopted standard time in late 1883, most states followed suit, as did the federal government — 50 years later.
From what I heard of the radio show, cloud computing is at the same spot standard time was in 1883. We might understand cloud computing fairly well, we might even overlook some of the thornier issues it represents, assuming the vendors will produce the needed technology to make everything right. However, the person on the street, who will ultimately determine the success or failure of this innovation, still needs to be convinced.
The comments list for the show revealed concerns about Internet throughput and spotty coverage as well as data security and cost. So far, we in the industry have been good about touting the virtues of cloud computing but a bit slower in dealing with the less sexy issues these concerns represent.
Time to Get Into Politics?
Perhaps the next item on the cloud computing checklist ought to be not so much selling the idea as assuring the market that it will work and no one will be disadvantaged. So far, our industry has stayed out of politics, and it’s hard to fault a strategy like that. But it might be wise for some of us to begin endorsing common-sense ideas like the Obama administration’s proposal to significantly enhance the high-speed Internet backbone in the U.S., using it as a teachable moment for all things cloud-related.
Our failure to educate the market leaves too much room for books with titles like “The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It,” and that’s the last thing this technology movement needs.
Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].