The strategic importance of cloud computing and the wider picture of the Internet as a platform for business enablement has not escaped the notice of politicians. After a vow at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos by Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, to make Europe not merely 'cloud friendly' but 'cloud active', a public consultation has just been launched as part of an initiative to formulate a European strategy for cloud computing.
Speaking at last week's EuroCloud Congress in Luxembourg, Rainer Zimmermann, a key advisor at the Commission on technology policy, pointed out that cloud computing already accounts for around €35 billion of economic activity within the EU, which for a growing industry puts it within striking distance of more mature industries such as semiconductors (around €250 billion) and telecoms (some €2000 billion) — certainly big enough for policy makers to take notice. A series of working parties are currently looking at aspects of the strategy, from innovation and interoperability to privacy and certification. EuroCloud [disclosure: of which I'm an unpaid vice-president] is representing the European cloud industry on each of them.
But one angle that is perhaps underplayed in the discussions is the matter of how vital cloud is as a platform for every other industry. As Web 2.0 author John Batelle wrote at the weekend, The World Is An Internet Startup Now. Entrepreneurs no longer have to be technologists to innovate in the cloud, "it's about innovating in their chosen field. And to do so, they of course are leveraging the Internet as platform." Thus an important part of the EuroCloud Congress agenda this year was to highlight stories of how cloud enables business success, with presentations from several winners of the current crop of EuroCloud Awards from across Europe. (True, we also need to highlight stories that illustrate barriers to cloud success, but there were no Awards for that!).
So here's a sample of Award-winning customer stories that demonstrate how cloud computing is helping European businesses grow and become stronger:
- The experience of retail giant Carrefour won the French Award for local company PageOnDemand.com, reducing paper catalog production timescales from six weeks down to three with a flexible solution that could be deployed instantly and easily made available to a broad population of users.
- CRM vendor Really Simple Systems was a winner in the UK with its case study of how accountancy firm RSM Tenon was able to manage complex prospect relationships across 14 different offices to grow its business. Having an easy-to-use cloud application that was accessible from anywhere was a key factor.
- Eight years old and with nine employees, Netherlands winner Reflex Online is a typical example of how a small ISV can be highly successful with the cloud model. Its online appointments system for retailers, recreation and facilities providers is highlighted in a case study with a Netherlands chain of opticians with over 250 stores making a total of around 2,000 appointments every day. The cloud solution has helped this retailer take advantage of the Web to provide a better, more efficient service to its customers.
- In my final example, Swedish winner eBuilder is helping 124-year-old Swedish industrial equipment giant Alfa Laval to stay competitive and improve efficiency, easing business process workflow and integration with partners and customers. Using eBuilder's cloud process platform, outsourced logistics provider DHL manages end-to-end order fulfilment from Alfa Laval's factories in Sweden to warehouses, distribution hubs and customers all over the globe.
As these examples show, the impact of cloud reaches out into all sectors of the economy, across every size of business, helping companies to innovate faster, deliver a better, more responsive service to their customers and lower their own costs of operation and innovation.