Why it's a good time to find an 'Industry Cloud' dance partner

The rise of industry cloud providers is putting pressure on big vendors and giving companies new options for partners that can help them in their cloud journey.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor
Image: Junko Kimura/Getty Images (2005)

The cloud computing pie gets larger by the minute, and while most folks are focused on the hyperscale providers like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure or fast-growing software as a service players such as Salesforce and Workday, there's a lot of innovation happening in industry-specific clouds.

In fact, you may be better off with one of these newfangled industry-focused providers than with your legacy infrastructure or go-to software providers that have been in the fold for decades.

Sure, the last thing you want to bone up on is another part of the cloud. But there are good reasons to ponder the emergence of the industry cloud. Some folks call it the vertical cloud. Workday's operating chief Mike Stankey called these providers experts in the operational systems cloud.

Whatever you call these vendors -- we'll call them the 'industry cloud' for our purposes -- the moving parts are about the same. These providers all share the following characteristics:

  1. An intense focus on an industry such as insurance, manufacturing, financial services, healthcare and life sciences.
  2. Domain expertise.
  3. A screaming customer need to replace legacy infrastructure built up over decades.
  4. And agility to outrun and gun larger software vendors such as Oracle and SAP that are more horizontal, but customize or acquire to target an industry.

If you zoom out a bit, Stankey's landscape of the cloud went like this:

  • IT cloud: Microsoft, Google, IBM and Amazon Web Services.
  • Collaboration cloud: Microsoft and Google. Maybe others, but you need the productivity tools and doc management too.
  • Marketing and sales: Salesforce, Oracle, SAP and a bevy of others.
  • Admin cloud: Workday, NetSuite, Oracle, SAP.
  • Operational systems cloud: Guidewire in insurance, Athena in health and Rootstock in manufacturing.

If you stumbled on that last category because the names don't jump out at you, you're not alone.

Consider these not-so-household names:

  • Rootstock provides on-demand ERP systems for the manufacturing industry. Rootstock is often coupled with Salesforce and FinancialForce to give manufacturers an alternative to SAP. Rootstock, launched in 2008, chose to build on Salesforce's platform. The company's wares are available on Salesforce's AppExchange. If you're going to hitch a ride on a rocket, Salesforce isn't a bad way to go.
  • Athenahealth provides electronic health records in the cloud. The company also provides on-premise software, as does Allscripts and other key players in the healthcare market. However, Athenahealth is seeing traction with its cloud products and can move its base of customers to as-a-service consumers. The key link to other industry cloud providers is focus.
  • Navatar Group provides cloud products that aim to lump together CRM, content management and data for the financial services industry. With a focus on asset and wealth management and a dash of investment banking Navatar is courting financial services firms. Like Rootstock, Navatar is a key partner of Salesforce. Navatar has built its software on Salesforce and Box.
  • Veeva is focused on life sciences and the account planning that goes with it. Veeva's cloud tools cover everything from managing research and development to managing reps as well as customers in a network.
  • Guidewire is another industry player focused on the insurance market. Based on its financial profile, Guidewire is mostly an on-premise software provider with a focus on insurers. However, Guidewire has launched Guidewire Live, which is a network of cloud apps designed to connect peers as well as take care of business. The company, which is publicly traded, is projected to have revenue of about $377 million for the fiscal year ending July 31.

The fact that the industry cloud is emerging quickly is notable for a few reasons. Among the big ones:

  • SAP and Oracle have industry-focused sales strategies and have acquired companies to target verticals. The catch is that neither company can focus as well as a specialist. Customers are trading a slower pace for girth and stability. However, you have to wonder if that stability is much of a selling point when these industry cloud players are large enough in their own right or hitching their wagons to Salesforce.
  • Agility provided by the cloud is hitting regulated industries and most companies are looking to diversify their vendor base.
  • Being a big customer of a smaller company gives you more say, clout and stake in the roadmap.
  • In the end, the goal for most IT buyers will revolve around a managed stack. A specialist may be able to manage the IT stack for you and connect with partners up the food chain such as AWS.

Oh sure, there's a chance that these industry cloud players will only be acquired by SAP and Oracle someday. But I'd argue that's a risk for any cloud provider today if you project scenarios out a decade.

I've seen previous proclamations that 2013 and 2014 was going to be the year of the industry cloud. I'm not going to be crazy enough to call 2015 that way. All you need to know for now is that the industry cloud is going to matter more and more with each passing year. Bone up and find a potential industry cloud dance partner.

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