Back in April I was asked to do the keynote session for an event aimed at Independent Software Vendors with the title “5 Key Challenges for the Cloud ISV CTO and How to Beat Them!”. The audience were software developers either considering moving their applications to the Cloud or who had just started that journey. Actually it was a struggle to pick just 5 and so I decided to revisit the topic and highlight 10 issues here. These challenges for a developer translate in to the characteristics for a best of breed Cloud application. For someone on the buy side looking for a solution your shortlisted provider may not have all of these ingredients today, but looking at the company, their solution and their product roadmap from this standpoint will give you a good understanding of how innovative and forward thinking they are. This list should form part of the due diligence on your selected vendor.
Recognize that we’re not in Kansas anymore. There are plenty of IT people in the industry who have decades of experience of technology life cycles and believe that everything that goes around comes around. This Cloud stuff is just like those centrally hosted mainframe bureau systems of old but with new marketing labels. Wrong! Have you read Douglas Adams great book Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency? Like Dirk I believe in the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things.” I’ve lived through the transition from mainframe to mini-computers to distributed PCs and Group-ware. From Open Systems (which really meant UNIX), to client/server and the first wave of the Internet and Web 1.0. Each shift meant a huge technology change and some major players failed to survive each transition. Today is different. Today we have three shifts, each easily as significant as those I’ve just listed, but they are happening simultaneously – the shift to Cloud is happening at the same time as the shift to Social at the same time as the shift Mobile.
The technology landscape has changed forever. We’re not in Kansas anymore, and it affects everything. Look carefully at your Cloud provider. There are two types – those who are retrofitting existing IT in to the Cloud – that’s fine and it gets some of the benefits, but it’s old school dressed in new clothes. The cool companies get what has happened. They are embracing the new paradigm with multi-tenant, public Cloud technology that helps customers adopt new business models, collaborate with their customers in new ways and make use of their data in ways that weren’t possible with old IT systems. Which approach are you looking at?
The consumerization of IT and the user experience. Old style software was complex, demanding training courses and expert help to implement it. Amazon, and websites like it, have shown us that you don’t need a training course to place an order for a book. The standard for good website design is still Steve Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think!” – the provider needs to take that mentality in to their business solution. Modern Cloud application providers need to put the user experience and user testing “front and centre” of their design philosophy. Way back in 2006 I met Richard Moross the founder of Moo.com, the business card people. I asked him what was the most significant investment in setting up his company. He answered immediately “the £10,000 I spent with Flow Interactive working on the user experience of the website”. It shows because making cards on Moo is fun and I’m much more likely to recommend them to my friends because I enjoyed the experience. Their competitor Vistaprint is spending heavily on TV advertising, but they’ll fail because their website is user hostile! Moo’s usability trumps it. That frictionless and fun work-flow is what you need in your business solution. User experience is paramount and you should look for Cloud apps providers who think that too.
The whole business model needs to change from end to end. A software company converting from selling old style, on premise, software licences to a Software as a Service subscription model has to change every part of their business. They compensate their sales team in different ways, and they market and sell differently. They implement the solution differently, starting with a small pilot and then rolling out the solution to more and more users only after it has been proven to be successful. They provide better documentation, more self service training and support. They provide software releases quarterly or maybe even weekly rather than a “big bang” upgrade every 18 months. They will be much more transparent about their product roadmap and provide better ways for customers to get involved and influence product direction. Their emphasis shifts from great selling to great on-going support as customer retention to build up recurring revenue becomes the business driver. They manage and monitor their business differently. Looking for these characteristics will help you pick the providers who have embraced the new Cloud paradigm properly and moved on from the old style software companies who may just be retrofitting legacy client/server software in to Cloud infrastructure.
Go Agile. Agile software development is a group of software development methods based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration. The real Cloud providers have adopted this approach, involving their customers in the process, and bring out regular, incremental releases. They will organize in to small teams and consequently get much more done. Look for companies who have moved on from the old methods of developing software.
Go Mobile. Most of us carry smart phones. Many of us have iPads or other tablet devices. Many of us want to use our own devices in our place of work – BYOD is where it’s at. As well as supporting all of the different browsers the Cloud providers now have to consider mobile devices too. That’s just the way of this new connected World . They need to look at how the user interface (menus, buttons, input fields) works on a 3-4 inch screen instead of a 20 inch screen and consider HTML 5 or creating dedicated smart phone or iPad apps for specific parts of the business system. Not every Cloud provider will be doing this yet, but you should ask the question and see where mobile is positioned in their product roadmap.
Go Social as a business. Smart companies are using social media tools to have conversations externally with their customers and partners, and internally to make their teams work more effectively. Smart Cloud providers need to be adopting this within the way they work. If the provider hasn’t got sharing buttons for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks on their website – do they really get the way the World has changed? Do they blog? Do they demonstrate their expertise and their thought leadership? Are they building a customer community? They need to have embraced new media marketing in the way they do business, so ask them. Business is Social after all.
Go Social with your product (actually I mean service). Some Cloud companies, like Salesforce.com, will do it by developing integral micro-blogging and messaging within the product (with Chatter), and collaboration tools (like Chatterbox) or by acquisition (adding Radian6 and Rypple). Others will do it by integrating with external social tools like Yammer or Tibbr. Similar to mobile, not many Cloud providers will be doing this yet, but you should ask the question and see where social is positioned in their product roadmap.
Don’t develop it all yourself. In the past the typical software company would have developers who thought they could do it all. The perception was always that it would be cheaper to build the support system or billing system or customer forum exactly the way we want it to work rather than buy. The end result was a whole load of bespoke software to support to run the business with limited functionality and no best practice. The smart development teams know what they are good at and stick to it. For things like support they should be considering Get Satisfaction or Zendesk. For things like subscription billing, consider Zuora. Who do they use for customer forums or websites? Does the company focus their development resources on what they are good at? Do they use off the shelf products for everything else? If they don’t – find out why.
Have a strong story on security. Even though most companies are considering Cloud solutions, the security questions will be amongst the first you are asked. If you haven’t got a strong story you’re toast. One of the beauties of the Cloud approach is that even the smallest provider can piggy back on the best available infrastructure at a fraction of the cost of doing it all themselves. I can buy 1Gb of storage from IBM for $2 a month, or from Amazon for 12.5 cents a month, and a range of prices in between. I can buy Infrastructure as a Service or invest in a Platform for development which does it all. I can rent servers with an inclusive backup and fail over service. Amazon and Apple are investing in huge data centres, but smaller providers like Memset do a great job too. They need to cover everything from making their site “hacker safe” to the way the way they handle privacy, data sovereignty and ownership in their contracts. As a buyer, make sure that your provider gives you full visibility and transparency on the technical foundation of their service and the terms of its provision.
Start with why! Maybe this should have been first. The smart Cloud providers understand and can verbalize why they do what they do. I’m a huge fan of Simon Sinek’s book, TED talks and approach. Get the book, but at very least watch the video. Companies like Apple or Salesforce.com get it, but there are plenty technology companies who are too caught up in the what and the how, and have lost the why. Look for Cloud providers who understand their own reason for being, and then live and breathe it.
If you see at least 4 or 5 of these characteristics in your Cloud provider, then they are positioned well for the future. However, if you don’t see much evidence of these 10, then you may be dealing with a traditional software provider who is dressing up their solution in Cloud clothes. Move on and find a more innovative partner.
ABOUT DAVID TERRAR
David heads up D2C, a consulting firm and Cloud Services provider. He is chair of Intellect’s SaaS Group, a Director of EuroCloud UK, an operations and governance board member of the Cloud Industry Forum and a regular speaker at social media, social business and Cloud Computing events including chairing London’s Cloud Computing World Forum. Although his history is rooted in traditional enterprise systems he is passionate about the intersection of cloud computing, mobile technology and social media, how these tools can be deployed to make business more effective, and the way these trends are changing the world of work. More here
D2C are consultants and solution providers Dedicated 2 Cloud Computing and Dedicated 2 Customers. They provide solutions for websites, web communities, collaboration, online accounting and Enterprise Requirements Planning (ERP). They advise companies on making the transition to the Cloud and adoption of social tools and new media marketing to help make businesses more effective. More here