Crossing the Cloud Rubicon Requires Human Participation
by Calvin Scharffs
We’re several years into the cloud revolution, and IT departments are officially on board: they’re slated to spend $13B on cloud computing this year. In-house racks and thick clients are cumbersome compared to cheap, hands-off cloud services. With costs shaved off in-house servers, IT teams can finally focus on those projects that engage users and boost company ROI.
Regular business users like using the cloud, too, but they’re a lot more confused by it. Many spend more time figuring the cloud out—remembering logins, moving documents between platforms—than they do taking full advantage of a cloud platform’s time-saving features.
Many businesses are left with incomplete returns on their cloud investments. The onus is on IT to educate business users not just how to use an app, but how to use an entire cloud infrastructure meaningfully. Only then can a business maximize its cloud investment.
Here There Be Dragons
Many IT departments use whiteboard or slideshow diagrams to demonstrate to their users how the cloud works. They point to a handful of significant nodes—company servers, client servers, the website, the e-commerce infrastructure. But that leaves a lot of white space filled with APIs and other things that most people don't need to understand. And just like the blank spots on maps of old, here there be dragons.
While IT might have a good idea of what lives in those blank spaces, everyday users often get that glazed look when the topic comes up. Some are ashamed to admit that they feel like they're the only ones who don't “get it”. Or they learn the two or three things necessary to do their job the way they always have, and never tap the real power of the tool. Many people, for example, use Microsoft Word to write correspondence, but still manually address envelopes. Others still print out every email.
Getting people to engage with the cloud, beyond merely storing and syncing files, requires more than simple explanations of how it works. Companies must look beyond the pure technology infrastructure and think about rewiring how people collaborate.
Same Tasks, New Tech
Breaking the behavioral patterns that limit users is not easy. Getting people to feel invited rather than pushed is the key to buy-in. Collaboration on the cloud has to feel familiar. It must resonate with users' experiences in other areas. Otherwise, users will default to their old habits and never truly benefit from the technology.
The first step is to realize that users feel their ecosystem is complicated. Take steps to make the cloud feel less imposing. For example, single sign-on software can be a good investment if your company uses multiple cloud back-ends. No single storage solution works seamlessly with all the big clouds—Google Drive, Dropbox and Amazon Web Services. Users regularly have to remember three or four logins and change passwords regularly (or not, which leads to security holes). Give them a single sign-on protects those secure data stores while making it easier for everyday users to access their data.
In a similar vein, it makes sense to add interoperability wherever possible. Box, for example, now makes it possible for users open documents stored in their cloud directly through MS Office applications. Zoom adds video conferencing to Google Apps so people can discuss issues in real time. If sharing comments and revisions feels like opening a normal document rather than fussing with an FTP client, people will get more done.
Bringing It Together
We traditionally think of collaboration as sitting together around a conference table and working out solutions. But just as the cloud has taken data storage out of the office, it has also taken collaboration beyond physical walls. The cloud reaches anywhere there is an internet connection. Teams are just as widespread. Now it's not just differences of opinion that need to be worked out, but differences in culture and language as well.
Given this growth, one often-overlooked aspect of cloud collaboration infrastructure is translation. Automating this process fits smack dab in the middle of those cloud diagrams we see so often. That white space isn't empty. It is filled with eager talent waiting for challenges. Harnessing the multi-lingual talent that resides in the cloud through automated translation lets businesses focus on delivering their own savvy products to the table instead of trying to get their teams to communicate effectively.
Bringing the Human Connection to the Cloud
With globalization and continuous delivery becoming part of everyday business, the momentum of cloud technology is irreversible. Success today requires bold steps and the willingness to march into unknown territory. Teamwork has always provided the speed and creativity that business needs in order to succeed. Now it's time to move that collaboration to the cloud.