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Have you ever found yourself suddenly struck by the scale of change around you and how it takes time for product developers and consumers to fully understand and exploit those changes?
I remember when the first digital cameras appeared and thinking that we were missing the point of the technology and what it could do to transform the way we take, share and enjoy photos. The first digital SLR cameras were little more than the film equivalent but with a digital sensor and a screen on which you could see the image you’d just taken. It took time for product designers and engineers to evolve from the paradigms of the analogue world to where we are today with our mobile phones as our first and, for some, only choice of camera. The mobile phone is always connected, has a powerful processor and excellent screen so the photo-taking, manipulation and sharing experiences are seamless. Our images are stored in the cloud and we can access them anywhere. A world away from the vision of those first product designers still tied to an analogue workflow.

A similar evolution is happening off the back of the cloud computing revolution. It’s taken time for businesses to fully embrace some of the most intrinsic features of cloud computing. Most notably, there was resistance to deploying workloads on shared computing platforms. The fear was that since IT systems provide differentiation and by maintaining their own systems on premises, in locked vaults, businesses could keep them from prying eyes and continually evolve their commercial edge then sharing those systems would dilute business value. Yet now many businesses run Microsoft Office 365, which is a shared service running across shared computing capacity across multiple geographies. Microsoft Azure provides an ever increasing range of services that deliver capabilities unimaginable only a handful of years ago and businesses are beginning to tap into these generic services to deliver competitive edge.  

There is a subtle and almost invisible change in mindset occurring. Only a few years ago businesses would look inwards and spend hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds to develop highly tailored, bespoke functionality to support their business models. This was the only option in a world without cloud services where one’s creativity was limited by budget, human resources and compute capability. But cloud services now deliver capabilities beyond those of the development teams in all but the wealthiest companies. Service providers like Microsoft invest almost unimaginable sums in R&D and acquire companies pioneering game-changing ideas. And the amazing thing is that due to the global reach of cloud platforms, these technologies are available as easy-to-consume services at low cost.

How should this change your behaviour as a decision maker in your company? Well, firstly, one must recognise that corporate differentiation no longer comes from the ground-up development of unique technology but from the clever use of the globally-available cloud services that can support dramatically changing working practices and delivery of new and novel solutions, services and products to one’s clients.

Having accepted this premise, it’s worth considering the types of workloads you’re likely to enable through cloud services. There is a continuum of value in the solutions delivered to your business and clients. At one end we have utilities which, if delivered well, no longer differentiate us. Think email. The value in these services comes from maximised up-time and ease of use. We need these services to be consumable with the minimum of friction. If your competitors have achieved this and you haven’t then they’re gaining a commercial advantage over you but they are unlikely to deliver outstanding business growth from these investments.

At the other end of the continuum are the unique offerings that define a business in its marketplace. These must remain individual to your business but the big change from days or yore is that they can still be based on the consumption of generic cloud services. The novel application of these services and the way they’re glued together along with the user interface are what provide differentiation and so it makes sense to invest heavily and work one-to-one with a solution provider such as ClearPeople to ensure that these services are truly outstanding. The evergreen nature of the underlying services means that your differentiator can continue to evolve and remain relevant in a changing market, which is a good thing.

Somewhere in the middle of our continuum are the services that support the business but which aren’t always those consumed by your clients. Here we have services that support areas such as marketing, project management and business change. These services can deliver more revenue or lower costs and greater staff and client satisfaction.  Given the breadth of benefits these services can offer, they are often the most overlooked as budget is squandered on utilities at one extreme and market differentiators at the other. These services are perhaps the ones where we can leverage the most value from a new approach to delivery since the services are rarely unique to any one business but the consequences of poor delivery are very significant to business growth and to the bottom line. So it’s here that a change in mentality might help. If we’re consuming shared services from cloud providers then why not share knowledge and budget between companies and work with a solution provider such as ClearPeople to deliver services that support this important area of business improvement? In the past individual companies engaged solution providers individually to tailor off-the-shelf products and services to their needs. This works OK but in a world where the services and platforms we run the workloads on are shared and continually evolving, we would like to challenge the corporate mindset.

ClearPeople has developed several business support applications based on Microsoft cloud services. These applications were often built at the bequest of a single client but when we’ve demonstrated them to other clients, they’ve been very excited about the value they could bring to their business.  In the past we might have packaged these applications as products and sold them backed with a roadmap that may or may not be relevant to all the users. But what if we instead build a community of interested businesses, share our ideas and garner input from the community about the direction of the product and the ever-evolving range of cloud services it could consume to make it even more powerful? Membership of the group would entail a monthly fee and vocal and regular engagement with the group and in return members would benefit from shared development cost and a product roadmap more likely to benefit their business whilst also benefiting from the knowledge of others about best practice and exciting ideas that have worked elsewhere. Investment in blind alleys, re-invention of the wheel and the general lack of confidence that goes with trying to envisage your whole strategy alone would be mitigated whilst costs reduce. What’s the cost to the economy of a thousand businesses all investing to develop the same or very similar functionality that will probably run on the same shared platform as their competitors? Can we challenge the paradigm?

Would you be brave enough to engage in such an open conversation with other companies working to deliver similar business-support applications? If you feel like challenging the status quo then please get in touch. A great example of the sort of solution that might benefit a range of companies and which could enjoy a shared roadmap is our Essentials Digital Collateral Manager. Why not take a look at it, see if it’s relevant to you and whether you’d like to be part of an ecosystem shaping its direction in return for a low monthly fee.

Author bio

Barry Wakelin
Barry Wakelin
Operations Director
I worry about delivery excellence, ensuring that we delight our clients and focus on quality. I like to use the experience that has resulted in my grey hair to help clients make the best decisions about their technology investments, which in turn helps secure a strong long-term engagement.

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