But where does the cloud go next and what are some of the interesting use cases that will help take cloud to the next level?
Four business and tech leaders discuss what the cloud now means for their businesses.
1. Overcoming legacy concerns to leave the internal data centre
Okta CIO Mark Settle runs his organisation, an identity management specialist, using about 140 cloud-based applications. "I have no data centre to worry about," he says. "It makes the budgeting cycle so much easier. You basically look at your list of SaaS subscription fees and project what the future costs will be like. It can be done in as little as 90 minutes."
Settle recognises that this shift from capital to operational expenditure will have a fundamental impact on the role of the IT leader. "It's the future and it's also a very different approach from the one I've taken in any of my previous businesses," he says, looking back on a career that has included seven CIO positions.
Settle believes the cloud is now a business-as-normal activity. "Almost all executives are looking to go cloud first now -- there's very few people writing software and buying new servers to run those applications in a data centre," he says. However, he also appreciates that key challenges remain, particularly regarding legacy applications.
"On the infrastructure side, the cloud has moved from something used for testing and development to a platform for production services. People are becoming increasingly confident moving systems to the cloud and getting their stuff out of the internal data centre," says Settle.
"However, it's also a fallacy to think that large, global enterprises are going to completely abandon their data centres. I think there'll always be legacy applications that need to be maintained in-house, be that for cost reasons or a desire not to disrupt how systems work currently. The hope has to be that cutting-edge work around containerisation will help some of the doubters to deal with their legacy concerns."
2. Using on-demand IT for almost everything
The future of the cloud, says CIO consultant Andrew Abboud, is very closely related to preconceived notions of on-demand IT. "Let's get this straight," he says. "Executives around the business don't talk about the cloud -- they're not interested in the technology per se, they just want to solve the business challenges they face."
CIOs must help ensure the hype surrounding the IT industry does not get in the way. "As technologists, we get hung up on buzzwords when we should be focused on the opportunities," says Abboud. "Every organisation is different and every business must understand how the cloud will deliver benefits."
Once the CIO has helped the rest of the business to establish the context of implementation, the key debate is simply how far an organisation can push its use of on-demand IT. "We're seeing a move towards online services across business and, in the future, the key question concerns saturation -- in most cases, why wouldn't you use the cloud for everything?"
Abboud recognises concerns persist, such as around information security and the porting of legacy applications. But he is hopeful such challenges can be overcome effectively. "If you accept the logic that an external cloud provider is going to be more secure than an internal data centre, then you should really push as much of your business to the cloud as possible," says Abboud.
"Legacy applications can be a problem, especially in the finance sector. But every industry must bite the bullet and transform eventually. CIOs need to appreciate that the Cobol specialists will die out -- you have to deal with change now."
3. Boosting real-time marketing and sales communications
Experienced CMO Sarah Speake says cloud computing is a welcome addition to the marketeer's digital kit bag. Analysts spend a great deal of time investigating the role of CIOs and CMOs in an age of decentralised purchasing. Speake says the next frontier for the cloud involves CMOs helping their departments to make the most of on-demand capability.
"We should take collective responsibility for up-skilling our teams sufficiently to navigate cloud-based apps and tools appropriately to drive speed, efficiency, and transparency," she says. Speake, who is an experienced CMO who has held senior marketing positions at ITV and Google, says cloud-based systems can help marketers move away from dangerous assumptions.
"For all too long, we shared key documents, like Excel spreadsheets, internally via email, never knowing whether the one we were inputting into or scrutinising to drive in-depth customer segmentation was the most current or not," she says. "Accuracy was an unknown quantity, so our responsibilities in driving additional leads and revenues to the bottom line were often hard to prove."
Speake says cloud computing can provide further boosts for marketers, such as through real-time access to customer relationship management data or via integrated marketing automation and communication. Once again, she says CMOs -- rather than CIOs -- can help people across the business to make the most of cloud-based services.
"In part, our role is to help our sales friends continuously assess customer prioritisation, depending on short- and long-term revenue potential," she says. "Equally, we will need to revise our own marketing communications to ensure we're driving leads or maintaining existing customers depending on our organisational business model."
4. Enabling education and development from any location
Matt Britland, director of ICT at Lady Eleanor Holles School, says his school uses Google Apps for Education and Microsoft Office 365. Both implementations are managed internally by the school. He says sensitive data relating to the school is not stored in the cloud. However, the technology is already playing a key role in education -- and that part will only grow in coming years.
"The cloud allows our students to work from any location as long as they have an internet-connected device," says Britland. "The cloud has to be part of the future of education because it enables learning to happen everywhere."
He is currently running a cloud-based project that allows pupils to work in teams and collaborate on the same project. The school's use of cloud-based productivity apps is also extended to staff. Britland says the right preparations are crucial.
"It can be a challenge explaining the software and its benefits to people who are new to the cloud," he says. "You have to put the right training in place and I've been running training courses. Most education professionals, however, are keen to learn and explore new opportunities."
VIDEO: Cloud conquered: How far can businesses push their use of on-demand IT?
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