Gathering clouds

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
– Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of DEC in 1977

The world has come a long way in 33 years.  Ken could not have known that billions of people the world over would indeed want (or at least, feel they need) a computer in their home, on their hip, in their hand, and in their car.  And despite the fragile state of today’s economic recovery, it seems as if nothing can impede the evolution of technology and its impact on our lives.   I tripped across this quote while checking the accuracy of other famous computer quotes.  All I can say is that I’m sure I have said things that seem ludicrous from the perspective of many decades later so I tend to cut all these guys a bit of slack.  It did make me think though about some reaction I hear to the notion of cloud computing.  There are many people who say that cloud computing is simply business as usual but with lots of clever marketing wrapped around it.  Hmmm…. I don’t believe the industry is guilty of over-hyping this time. Before scoffing at a cloud-based future painted by some people, quotes like the ones in the link above (at least the ones that were truly uttered) should serve to remind us to be humble.

I believe that the growth prospects for cloud computing are good and here’s a very simple, if cryptic, proof point.  In a stock portfolio advisory article, Barron’s argued that a tipping point has been reached in which the digital form of books has overtaken the physical.  The last sentence of the article concluded that brick and mortar booksellers have no place in their (Barron’s) portfolios.  What’s so “cloud-y” about that?, you might ask.  Bear with me.

Think about what’s involved in delivering the product for physical bookstores.  I don’t have the space to list them here, and you probably don’t have the patience to read things you might already know about all the various pieces of mobile and stationary equipment and software that comprise a bookstore supply chain.  Now think about how much more flexibility is available to book sellers if they want to shift their focus to selling digital versions instead. Consider and contrast the choices …

a)      employing a service catalog in the cloud to present product offerings to, and accept orders directly from, customers.  That workflow then triggers provision of a service that almost instantaneously: 1) bills the customer; 2) receives payment from the customer; 3) delivers the product to the customer.


b)      attempting to predict demand so as to stock shelves housed in expensive real estate, in hope that customers will physically visit the store and buy the books resting on its shelves. 

The comparison is not even fair.  You can see the almost irresistible temptation of the first part of this dichotomy for business leaders who need to hone methods for growing their businesses by, in part, shedding non-core stuff.  It’s not a classic IT cloud play but the example does illustrate the business advantage of passing off all that supply chain to the cloud.  It is likely to become the defacto decision in the coming years.  While in-house computing will remain important for many companies for a variety of reasons, the delivery and appeal of secure and cost-effective cloud-based critical business services will likely accelerate in the next couple of years.

Back to the bookstore example, on a personal level I know the tipping point has been reached when my niece and my wife, both technology neophytes, have embraced the Kindle and the Sony e-Reader, respectively.  Both love the e-book stores and feel they’re like iTunes for people with reasonable attention spans.  At least the arrival of these new computers in my home has the potential for reducing the number of books I store on my bookshelves.

About Peter Armaly
I get jazzed by automation, big data, and blockchain tech. Business, technology, and fitness are things I understand. Scotch, wine, food, and fiction are things I appreciate.

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