Biz should tap cloud's multiplier effect

Cloud computing offers more than cost savings; used correctly, it can help open up new opportunities and better utilization of existing IT infrastructure and data, say industry watchers.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The current cloud computing focus is largely on how companies can move to the cloud, however industry executives urged enterprise customers to look beyond this stage to seeing how cloud services can help grow their business.

Simon Choy, chief strategist at IBM Asean, said that the industry focus thus far has solely been about optimization, which include consolidation, virtualization, cost savings, and returns on investment (ROI). However, he said companies should not look at cloud migration narrowly. The executive was speaking to ZDNet Asia at the sidelines of the Cloud Asia conference here Tuesday.

Choy noted that while optimization is the necessary first step, enterprises should look to cloud to create innovative and disruptive business opportunities. In other words, they should not limit themselves to thinking how cloud can help them save money, but on how the technology can grow their businesses and generate more revenue, he explained.

As such, CIOs ought to capitalize on cloud computing's scalability and elasticity to create new avenues of cloud-based business, such as providing software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings to partners within their ecosystems, the IBMer said. These could include subsidiaries, suppliers and downstream partners.

"[The idea] isn't that every end-user company becomes a Salesforce.com, but it can create common services to serve others within its own community," Choy stated.

For instance, a cosmetics brand with its own cloud computing infrastructure can lease, on a per-use basis, its online analytics systems to smaller, third-party retail sites that stock the former's products, he said. These online stores, which may not want or cannot afford to have their own IT infrastructure, benefit from having on-demand access to customers' data insights to better develop targeted marketing campaigns or promotions to help boost sales of that brand's items.

Changi Airport Group (CAG) is one organization that is looking into commercializing some of its cloud services. Steve Lee, CIO at CAG, highlighted its Swift tool, which stands for "Service Worker and Instant Feedback Transformation", as an example.

The Swift app, which was created to shorten Changi Airport service staff's response time to customer feedback, would be of interest to small businesses that do not have the capital expenditure to build their own IT infrastructure, he said during his presentation at the conference.

Leveraging "data-as-a-service"
Another organization that has reaped the benefits from cloud computing is Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA).

Rosina Howe, chief innovation officer and group director of innovation and infocomm technology at LTA, said the organization's customers are commuters in the country, be they citizens or foreigners, and given the size of the demographic, it is neither possible nor appropriate for the agency to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to serving their needs.

Instead, LTA recognized that its core competencies are in data and backend infrastructure, and chose to offer "data-as-a-service" to allow the public to better utilize its information, she pointed out. Using cloud technology, the public sector agency introduced its "data mall" in November last year for people to access and use and, since then, more than 900 data sets have been downloaded, the executive added.

"Data is not just for [our use]. Greater value can be achieved by sharing our data with the community and developers to make niche mobile apps that are useful to the various customer segments," Howe said.

She also pointed out that LTA's cloud foray was "not a plunge [taken] without knowing what we were doing". Some of the agency's information still resides internally while others are hosted and available via the online data mall.

In return for opening up its data, the third-party mobile apps for buses, trains and taxis have "blossomed" and received millions of downloads from local citizens to improve the dissemination of transport information within the country, Howe noted.

"We wouldn't have been able to tackle the myriad handheld devices out there [with apps] as that's not our core strength. If we did and kept everything to ourselves and not shared data, the innovations wouldn't have multiplied and potential maximized," she said.

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