Being Too Close to the Trees can Cloud Your View

Close-Up to Trees

Close-Up to Trees

Make no mistake, the transformation of computing is happening. While 10 years ago the IT technologists would have been talking about CPU speeds and core density as well as gigabit pipes and gigabytes disks, today they are talking about putting all of these advances into a logical and elastic computing platform that can be scaled to any size and accessed on demand at just the level needed, with the matching minimum cost structure for the desired level of demand. We all know it today as “Cloud Computing” and it allows the consumer of computing to tailor their purchased supply to their actual demand for computing.

The Big Picture

The Big Picture

While it’s still very exciting to talk about the technology of “The Cloud” itself, there is a ground swell underway of companies that are looking to leverage the technology of the Cloud by focusing on delivering business value on top of the Cloud in very specific vertical worlds. It’s the difference between talking about owning a forest of oak trees compared to talking about fine hand-crafted wooden kitchen tables and chairs. See the relation? The buyer of a chair won’t have nearly the interest in the details of the forest or the trees, but instead would like to focus on the color, finish or styling of a chair made from those trees and built for their specific kitchen. They understand the impracticability of themselves transforming a raw oak log into a kitchen chair, and could appreciate the number of craftsman that they would have to hire to convert that tree log into a chair. They know that there is real value in having someone do that work for them.

Like the tree log, the Cloud is the raw material for delivering end-user focused applications and value. If asked, the end-user would always prefer to find applications that are purpose-built for their specific need (vertical), rather than buying a one-size-fits-all and trying to make it into something it was never intended to be. Think of the diversity of needs between hospitality and retail, between life sciences and legal. Each of these verticals presents a very different set of needs, so when companies with these varying business plans go looking for cloud based solutions, they would prefer to find something that is pre-made for their world, not a general-purpose solution that may fit some of their needs, but miss the ball on others.

Much of the ‘buzz’ in the tech industry is regarding the Cloud itself, but a growing swell is luckily focusing on the innovation and agility the Cloud makes possible. Entire companies exist to innovate applications built for the Cloud that address their vertical values, simply identifying the Cloud as the requisite raw material for access and delivery. There are a ton of capabilities that the Cloud brings to the table which are inherited by the application providers that use it,  but at the end of the day it is not the Cloud that matters to these users as much as the vertically focused value.

The key for all of us is to broaden our minds and re-consider the Cloud platform as an amazing new opportunity to re-think the myriad of general-purpose solutions already in place. Take EMAIL for example. We all grew up on it, and take it for granted. Today the Cloud allows new users to be provisioned with the click of a mouse. No hardware or software needed. Pretty amazing. But email is just email, right? Wrong. When was the last time you were asked to share your credit card via email and felt safe doing so? Never. How about receiving your medical test results via email? Nope, not going to happen with today’s email systems. Email wasn’t built for these vertical needs, and consequently can’t be used for those common purposes.

Now think of building applications with the specific use case in mind. If we wanted to have an email system designed for sharing financial records we could. But it must be designed to do so, from the start. Sure it would use the Cloud as the delivery mechanism, but the innovation happens above the Cloud.

I am always excited when I see companies that get past the sound-bites and instead focus on the heavy lifting.  Cloud is a popular sound-bite and generates more column inches in the press than anything else seen in years, but that is just the raw tree logs. You’ll see a growing number of people talking about their fine crafted “chairs”, I mean “vertical applications” going forward…

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Mark Harris Fremont, CA
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