How cloud is changing the skunk works

Many organisations consider cloud primarily as a means of removing cost from their business, as was shown by a survey recently reported in this publication. However, moving applications to the cloud also enables them to improve productivity and increase business profitability, as research by KMPG points out.

One area of significant change is the way in which cloud is being used to support collaboration and innovation, completely reinventing the concept of the ‘skunk works’. This term originated to describe a small research and development group at US aerospace company Lockheed Martin, and is now used more broadly for any team of bright individuals brought together to use radical thinking to solve difficult problems or create innovation. The team is usually given special resources and is able to work outside routine organisational structures.

In the past, setting up a skunk works meant bringing team members together in the same room to spark ideas off each other and physically share materials and resources. This is becoming increasingly difficult, not just for multinational companies but for organisations of all sizes whose staff may work from diverse locations and rarely, if ever, meet face to face.

However, today’s skunk works is primarily about knowledge sharing and collaborative working rather than physically creating new products – which is ideally suited to cloud computing. Cloud enables people to work collaboratively whatever their location, sharing corporate documents and Intellectual Property (IP) and working smoothly across different time zones. They can consume documents across multiple devices whether they’re at home, on the road or in the office; stop work at the end of the day, then log on again and see the progress that has been made by colleagues in other time zones while they sleep. Organisations are now willing to open up information to users, using tried and tested processes to control IP and manage security.

This way of working is instinctive for younger people, who have grown up with collaborative information sharing via the cloud for their social interactions. They are familiar with cloud technology and expect to find the same concept – working across multiple platforms and sharing information in real time – in their workplace, so organisations need to capitalise on this by making suitable tools available.

For example, social networks such as Yammer provide a corporate equivalent to Facebook, and can be used to increase employee engagement as well as facilitating cross-team collaboration. This is now included with Microsoft Office 365, making it widely available. Instant messaging products such as Skype provide an alternative to phone and email, and can be particularly well suited to international collaborations where some parties may be fluent in English but have a strong local accent which makes phone calls difficult. Some organisations are actively encouraging staff to email less because it reduces the ability to innovate, while social media tools encourage human interaction and can come across as more friendly. Video calls are also playing an increasing role and the development of instant translation subtitles will only increase adoption by international organisations.

By moving line of business applications to the cloud, organisations can enable users to access more information such as corporate databases and file stores, while the data itself is retained in-house. Vendors such as Microsoft are facilitating this by combining the desktop application experience and server remote desktop services in the cloud, making them available on a variety of devices.

Office 365 allows users to easily share documents with colleagues whether inside or outside the office and enables them to collaborate and work on the same file at the same time. For example, a global property investment organisation with total assets under management of $3.85 billion worked with EACS to implement Office 365 to encourage collaboration between their employees who were based over 8 offices throughout Europe. In the two years since the implementation they have seen a vast improvement in the interaction between international offices, mainly due to instant messaging.

Cloud then, should not just be considered for its ability to reduce costs. By removing barriers to success and helping staff work together in new ways, it can help organisations innovate and collaborate and move their business forward in new directions.

Mike Dearlove, managing director, EACS

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