For many businesses, cloud computing is seen primarily as a way to cut costs. Indeed, by migrating to the cloud, they can make substantial savings, foregoing the purchase and maintenance of internal servers and network equipment and replacing them with allocated space and resources on the infrastructure of a cloud service provider. Beyond this, however, it’s those that use the cloud to innovate that find themselves with the most potential. Here, we’ll look at the opportunities the cloud presents.
Breaking boundaries – opening borders
A benefit often overlooked by businesses is that cloud computing enables data to travel easily between nations. While there are regulations that govern this, e.g., GDPR, the ability to move data across borders allows businesses to create teams made up of experts from across the globe who can collaborate on projects that, without the cloud, would have been unachievable by all except large global organisations.
What cloud does here is remove the IT boundaries that traditionally separate large and small corporations. Smaller enterprises that adopt cloud technology no longer find themselves locked out of global projects, Businesses, including many unicorn startups, have used this to huge advantage. Well-known examples include companies such as Airbnb, Deliveroo, Slack and Uber.
Of course, removing boundaries also enables two-way traffic and this has enabled larger organisations the chance to impinge on the local operations of smaller companies, something they can now do cost-effectively thanks to the cloud. Indeed, as they have grown from disruptive startups to global operations, this is exactly what Uber, Airbnb and similar companies have been able to achieve.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The ability of computerised items to be connected and communicate over the Internet offers immense opportunities to businesses but would be impossible without cloud technology. One example of how this provides innovation is through the creation of flexible industry, i.e., linking up IoT-connected operational machinery at different sites in order to establish new and more effective ways of working. With the cloud, these machines not only interconnect; they can be managed via a single, centralised hub, potentially on the other side of the planet.
IoT is also becoming an important element of the supply chain, with enabled devices continually providing data to the cloud about the whereabouts and condition of materials and finished products. This is particularly useful in the transport of perishable goods where careful monitoring can reduce enormous amounts of wastage. It’s an innovation that has helped cut costs and improve sustainability.
After the products have been sold, IoT also enables them to be monitored while in use by the customer. This has led to numerous innovations: car manufacturers, for example, have made huge advances, providing safer and more reliable cars and better in-car services for their customers.
Without the cloud, the cost of integrating the multitude of IoT devices into a single system would have been financially unviable for businesses and the innovations that we have seen would not have happened.
Traditionally, innovation has been a secretive process with businesses keeping their projects completely under wraps until release. Today, however, that mindset is changing, thanks in many ways to the cloud. Issues of trust and transparency led many businesses to open up data to customers (e.g., information about carbon emissions, employee diversity, etc.) and this has evolved into a situation where they collaborate openly with customers, partners and others to develop products and services that, because of wider involvement, are better from the outset and are less likely to fall flat on their feet.
Of course, doing this involves the collection and analysis of data from a wide range of sources, something which the cloud is best suited for.
The omnichannel world
Advances in technology have given businesses the ability to deliver omnichannel services, something consumers are now beginning to expect from the brands they give their custom to. They want omnichannel communications, so they can receive messages via their preferred channels, and omnichannel shopping so the boundaries between physical and online shopping experiences disappear.
Putting such innovative practices in place requires companies to integrate all the separate areas of their operations. Messages and services need to flow seamlessly across all touchpoints and this means unifying physical stores, websites, mobile apps, customer service, inventory and accounts into a single system. With these elements spread across different locations and with so much data being used within them, cloud technology is the only real solution for putting such a system in place.
The innovations that come from these solutions, however, help companies provide even better customer experiences, such as personalisation, easier interaction, new products and services and so forth.
While the cloud does enable businesses to cut IT expenditure, its real benefit is in its ability to help them innovate. With tools like big data analytics, automation, IoT, artificial intelligence and machine learning primed for use in the cloud, and with the ability to unify and link people, machines and systems, the potential to make progress is enormous.