The number of people online has grown to be the vast majority of the population. Broadband is generally fast, reliable, and most importantly always on, unlike its dial-up predecessor. Computers continue to get cheaper and there's a plethora of new smartphones getting in on the internet act. All in all, this adds up to a lot of change and the result is a landscape that looks completely different when it comes to running services over the web.
The perfect solution?
Cloud services are growing rapidly, fuelled by a number of advantages, although there are some related disadvantages which rarely get a mention. The advantages include the fact that cloud-based applications have no capital cost, with running costs coming out of revenue. They can be accessed from anywhere so if you are in the office, at home, somewhere with wifi, or even using your iPhone or Android, they are available. There's very little technical knowledge required, so it's generally faster to get started. It must be said that for small companies and start-ups, these attributes make cloud services very attractive.
This explains why my company, Sellerdeck, has just embraced cloud services in a big way. We've introduced a new, fully online service in connection with a partner to provide a cloud-based E-Commerce service for small companies. I mention it both because it's relevant to the topic and because the tie-up between Sellerdeck and Oxatis has created the biggest small-company E-Commerce supplier in Europe by quite a long chalk.
It's not all rosy
On the other hand, there's relatively little discussion of the down side of the cloud approach. The first is tie-in and ownership. There are plenty of big companies that don't wish to be tied into a cloud service as they have little influence over its functionality. Large organisations cannot easily move between applications, however quick the technical implementation may be, so there's considerable tie-in. This is because training, process design, interface developments, and conversion of data all have to be addressed like any other IT project. And these are just the issues that spring to mind with no effort.
The second is flexibility. I've seen it stated that cloud services are intrinsically more flexible, but this isn't true. In the majority of cases every customer uses the same version of the software. If you have special requirements not shared by others, you're probably out of luck. If you don't want the latest upgrade because it will disrupt your operations, tough again. There are ways to design around these issues, but cloud services are inherently less flexible than having code you can modify yourself.
Is the cloud for everyone? Not yet, although everyone should now take a long hard look. We can expect to see massive growth in the provision of cloud-based services over the next few years, starting with smaller companies, then progressing up market. So watch this space.
Written by Chris Barling, is CEO of E-Commerce specialist, Sellerdeck. Originally published on BusinessZone.