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The future of cloud: How to stay ahead

ITProPortal spoke to Pontus Noren, the co-founder and director of Cloudreach, about the future of cloud computing. Noren has over 15 years of international experience in the IT industry in sales, business development and product marketing, working for a series of blue chip companies like Cisco, Computer Associates, Ericsson, Hewlett Packard and Nokia Networks. He spoke to us about what the future holds for cloud, and how businesses can stay ahead of the curve.

How sustainable is the growth in demand for cloud computing?

Demand for cloud computing has exploded over the last couple of years, but we're expecting that it will continue to rise significantly for the next 5-10 years. This is because mass adoption of cloud is yet to come, as the vast majority of the market is still only using cloud for specific applications.

Turning that corner will be a huge moment for the cloud industry, but even at the moment it's clear that cloud has moved past the hype phase, and into the first step of an entirely new era for the industry – maturation. It's no longer a case of 'if' businesses will be adopting cloud services. It's now a matter of 'when'.

The cumbersome task of managing an in-house IT team is a burden on any growing business, and an overreliance on onsite IT systems in larger businesses gets in the way of new and increasingly popular models of working, such as mobile or remote working. Cloudreach's own growth over the last couple of years – annual turnover has risen from £800k in 2011 to £5.5m in 2013 – shows the rapidly increasing demand for cloud services. That's only going to increase as the cloud industry matures, as start-ups grow and as larger companies start to realise the benefits it holds for them.

What are the benefits of outsourcing your IT systems to cloud providers?

There are a number of benefits to companies that choose to outsource their IT systems to cloud providers. Paying only for what they use, companies are not bound by long-term contracts that offer them very little flexibility. Outsourcing enables companies to expand and contract their storage fluidly as the need arises. By outsourcing companies also gain access to technologies that were previously only available to enterprises with very large budgets, such as data warehousing, analytics and big data.

What should an IT manager be aware of when migrating to the cloud?

There will be resistance as people defend the methods and technologies they have used for long periods of time. IT staff tend to apply old methodologies to new cloud technologies which can work, but don't leverage the true power of cloud technologies. Realising the full benefits of cloud requires different ways of thinking, designing and operating.

What measures should businesses be considering to ensure they stay up to date with the latest cloud-based services?

Businesses shouldn't be afraid to start small and experiment with cloud technologies, there is nothing to lose. Once they discover the benefits they can expand aggressively to leverage them. One of the ways large and small companies can do that is to reassess IT procurement and seek to do business with smaller firms. It's smaller IT providers that provide true innovation. Smaller businesses have the ability to react to market landscape changes much faster than larger corporations, and they have a lot less to lose from the associated risks of innovating. They can also offer greater levels of personal support and customisation.

Gartner recently advised CIOs to seek out small, innovative IT providers, and recent research showed that 70 per cent of decision makers now believe that their company needs to spend more on innovation and transformation projects. There is unquestionably a large appetite for faster, smoother, better IT systems, and to fulfil that appetite companies need to immediately start embracing innovation as a cultural value. The best way to do that quickly is to start working with the smaller IT providers that are really changing the way that businesses work.

What role does the cloud play in helping high growth/high value companies secure interest from investors?

Companies that experience high growth obviously attract investor interest, but it's those that are built for the next market surge that will really draw the investor community in. These are the businesses that demonstrate their understanding of mobile computing, integrate social media and, crucially, have their infrastructure based in the cloud.

Twitter's recent IPO success proves that cloud computing is now a vital element of any viable business model, following the incredible achievements of cloud-based companies like Netflix, Salesforce and LinkedIn. This is just another indication of the cloud industry's maturation.

Tech companies are set to dominate the IPO calendar for the foreseeable future, and that's because they're increasingly embracing the cloud. Investors want to know that a business is going to provide them with a return, and for that the company needs to be able to support growth. Cloud infrastructures align with businesses' development, enabling companies to be flexible, agile and able to cope with rapid growth without the burden of managing an onsite IT system. It's evolved from being a much hyped mode of computing to become an essential element of any business that has strong growth ambitions, and, as Twitter has shown, provides a compelling motive for investors to start paying attention.

Why does migrating to the cloud necessitate a cultural impact on a business?

Businesses should not expect the cloud to simply fit into their organisations with no changes necessary. Communication processes need to be put in place, staff need to be consulted and education programs need to be started. Otherwise changes can be quickly met with resilience and lack of efficiency.

All technological changes, especially moving to the cloud, must be 'embraced' rather than simply 'migrated to'. Technological changes require a fundamental change in corporate culture that affects the entire business, not just the IT department. Without cultural change, the benefits will be difficult to discern and will, frankly, be the least of the company's problems.

Why is it important that cloud migration is managed effectively?

Moving to the cloud requires planning and preparation. A change in corporate culture doesn't just happen overnight. IT managers must plan for change and embark on the long process of educating everyone in the organisation, whilst listening to their feedback and acting on it. On-going training, support and consultation are also vital to effective cloud migration. All too often people overly focus on the technological side, where, actually, it's the people who make the real difference to a successful cloud transition and only if the people are truly on board will the company realise the full and various benefits of cloud.

In what ways does cloud give CIOs a bigger seat in the boardroom?

Most businesses are now aware that the ways that data is used in their organisation can be the difference between success and failure. It is data analytics and visualisation - the processes of using the data for intelligent decision making - that require a change that CIOs across the country are managing. Information is at the heart of all modern businesses, and IT departments constantly face the problem of dealing with, processing and then utilising large volumes of data that has an important strategic value to the business.

Cloud services provide CIOs with easy-to-use tools that can provide unprecedented levels of insight. As companies increasingly recognise the strategic impact data can have, they also increasingly understand that the CIO, in many cases, holds the proverbial reins to the entire company. This is true both at a grassroots level in a basic IT capacity, and also at an innovative and macro-scale level, when it comes to the bigger, strategic decisions that a company has to make.

Why should businesses start regarding CIOs as 'chief innovation officers' rather than 'chief information officers'?

This is something of a well-used quip now, that CIOs are 'chief innovation officers' instead of 'chief information officers'. While it's true that innovation has become an important part of the job role, that's only because of the new power of information and the flexibility of the methods of storing, analysing and utilising that information which is now at the disposal of the CIO.

The monumental developments in information management and analysis have made the C-Level world turn and look at the CIO for strategic guidance and advice. Innovation is a core and very achievable value for any business, because of the changing position of the CIO and the increasing prevalence of cloud.

As cloud services are easy-to-use, quick to implement and very affordable, the CIO's management of insight helps companies to innovate quickly, and ensure that the entire business is always on the right track.

Image: Flickr (Victor1558; reynmedia)