This may be the year when “Cloud Computing” takes off – fueled by millions of intelligent and light weight mobile devices, securely interacting with others over a ubiquitous and always-on network.
At the moment, a much more profound change is taking place – where knowledge, formerly stored in document silos, is now shared, revised and published by designated trusted communities connected to the internet.
The document model, dominating the end of the last century has since been subsumed by a collaborative web-centric model.
The document model focused on individual contributors, maintaining content silos on individual or clustered PCs, loaded with software that empowered personal productivity offline and online. Internet connections were unreliable and security was assured through isolated information.
Collaboration meant creating a document, published to (hopefully all) affected stakeholders, who in turn would review, revise and return the changes back to those who could be trusted to meaningfully aggregate the consensus of the group. Multiple versions were maintained, with revisions languishing on file and print servers, and email in-boxes clogged up with revisions of the same document.
Work-flow solutions, often complex and difficult to use, became popular. Document change tracking was offered as a standard feature. Content management solutions were also deployed to store document revisions, with ad-hoc instant messenger networks filling in the collaboration gaps over the internet.
The collaborative web-centric model is different. Starting on the internet, knowledge starts with shared multi-user conversations with the presumption that all content will be shared instantly.
Designated stakeholders join and leave conversations dynamically, revising consensus knowledge simultaneously. All revisions are tracked and rolled back seamlessly. At any point along the way, the content can transform into documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, or even data-marts, which can be emailed or embedded, published to designated trust communities. Presentations are instantly shared for revision and play-back. Many-to-many conversations occur simultaneously over disparate communication channels. Storage no longer impedes communications – quotas are huge and growing.
The old model is still in play, but at an additional cost – namely license fees and more often than not, the required help of internal IT staff required to maintain these complex add-ons. The old model actually benefits those IT communities that support large organizations, creating jobs and meaningful roles in companies.
Smaller organizations are transitioning straight to cloud solutions by the thousands – embracing, for example, Google Apps, 37 Signals, and Salesforce.com solutions – which are much simpler to use and much more configurable. The transition is empowering ordinary knowledge workers to create sophisticated solutions without the intervention of IT experts.
The new work model, together with the exponential rise in intelligent and light weight mobile devices, appear to be driving this inflection point where powerful “enterprise” functionality is just now becoming available to smaller organizations a attractive cost efficiencies.
In our view this new work model yields a primary benefit in any Cloud Computing justification. Moving an old model into someone’s data center misses that benefit. Changing how stakeholders collaborate yields the greatest return on the lowest total ongoing cost of operating these new technologies.