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The Changing Cloud Computing Climate

January 09, 2017

A new IDG survey reveals a subtle but perceptible shift in how enterprises’ attitude toward the cloud is changing.

In recent years, technology has witnessed some astonishing transformations. Mobile phones have evolved into handheld computers, with a corresponding change in the way they’re used, supplanting everything from calculators to cameras. Cloud computing has undergone a similar evolution. What used to be a way to save money on software (through SaaS) and infrastructure (through IaaS) is now much more to IT decision makers.

IDG Research Services recently surveyed IT executives and discovered a marked change in their perception. IT now thinks of cloud computing as a way to be more responsive to changing conditions – essentially, as a path to changing the way they do business. The survey also addressed their expectations about cloud migration – what they’re concerned about, and what benefits they expect to derive. The results were intriguing: while initial concerns about the perceived drawbacks of the cloud are fading, companies are ratcheting up their expectations of what the cloud can deliver.

Three Key Issues Surrounding The Cloud

In order to ascertain the current state of cloud migration perceptions, the survey asked three key questions of IT executives: what are their biggest concerns and primary goals for moving to the cloud, and what potential benefits of a hosted cloud do they find most attractive?

Concerns: Reliability and Performance Become A Given
Interestingly, what might have been concerns a few years ago have fallen in importance: only 38% of respondents cited reliability, with 40% mentioning performance. Not surprisingly, other issues have risen in importance: 78% of respondents pointed to security and 42% to compliance.

These results represent a significant shift in perceptions. First, with less than half of respondents citing performance and reliability, it’s clear that IT executives are less concerned than ever before about the networks they’re using. Network stability has clearly advanced, diminishing executives’ worries about downtime. At the same time, it also seems clear that a higher concern about security translates to a greater willingness to put more sensitive data in the cloud – as long as it’s protected.

Goals: All About Digital Transformation
Not surprisingly, cost benefits still top the list of primary goals for moving to the cloud; 64% of respondents cited this goal. What is a surprise, however, is the depth of support for migrating to the cloud as a way to deploy new applications faster, noted by 53% of respondents. That speaks to a deeper consideration of the cloud as the path toward agility.

Even more enlightening were the increasing numbers of IT executives who associate the cloud with the somewhat-amorphous concept of digital transformation – the idea of using technology to ratchet up capabilities in communication, collaboration, and insight across the entire enterprise. The idea of the cloud creating a foundation for digital transformation resonated with 38% of respondents, with 34% citing the cloud’s potential for underpinning better employee experiences (i.e., productivity) and 27% citing the cloud’s potential for underpinning better customer experiences (i.e., engagement).

Benefits: Scalability Tops Cost Savings
The survey also looked at what benefits IT executives expected to derive from the cloud, not just their desires. At the top was scalability, cited by 60% of respondents – that is, the ability to react quickly to changing computing needs across the organization. Some 54% cited lower capital costs, indicating that IT executives perceive cost savings go hand-in-hand with the cloud.

They also see the benefit of shifting IT resources, evidenced by 50% liking the ability to offload IT resources, presumably to higher-value activities. Further down the list of benefits: reliability (27%) and performance (22%). The latter are still benefits, but their prevalence has been diminished.

What Trends Do These Results Reveal?

One of the most interesting statistics over the last century is the increasing speed with which technological advances reach a significant penetration among users – electricity took longer than radio, which took longer than television, which took longer than smartphones. No entity has tracked where cloud computing fits on that list, but it’s become a mainstream alternative quickly. Not only are performance and reliability no longer concerns, but they’re not even highly cited as benefits. Both cloud computing and the networks that support it have almost become non-issues among IT executives.

IT has moved on to focus either on new concerns, or to ratchet up focus on existing issues. Security has always been a hurdle, not only in the cloud, but across IT. Enterprises are still concerned about the myriad ways they can be vulnerable, both from technological intrusion and from human error. Recent increases in denial-of-service successes also increase sensitivity regarding security. Because cloud computing by definition takes place “elsewhere,” beyond the control of on-site IT, security will probably always be top of mind.

But the survey results also show that compliance continues to maintain a high level of importance. If cloud computing providers are willing to handle cyber security (and indeed, can focus more resources on it more economically than most enterprises, especially small to midsize ones), then they should also be equally adept at handling the related issues of compliance, especially when they relate to data privacy. Enterprises must conduct strict due diligence on cloud vendors’ procedures relating to compliance, and pay particular attention to specific needs within their industry, whether PCI in retail, HIPAA in healthcare, or Dodd-Frank in financial services.

And that’s not all. The survey results also bring to light that new, different advantages in cloud computing are piquing IT executives’ interest. It’s indicative that cost is no longer cited the number one benefit. Just a few years ago, vendors ballyhooed cost savings as the best reason to switch to cloud computing. Today, IT executives are more interested in the ability to scale their enterprise computing capabilities; that is, the ability to react quickly to changing market conditions and respond accordingly in order to serve customers or establish a competitive advantage.

Scalability has become a key issue because enterprises are just as distributed as their data. The ability to scale means not only giving fast access to the right data when it’s needed, but being able to aggregate data quickly across multiple systems. The proliferation of industry-standard, cloud-based APIs for connecting and exchanging data, coupled with the ability to analyze that data in either a third-party cloud or hybrid scenario – without having to build a system solely for that compute-intensive purpose – gives enterprises advantages they’ve never had before.

That’s why enterprises are looking more closely at cloud computing as a path toward digital transformation. Digital transformation tends to encompass the issues of both higher productivity (meaning better employee experience) and increased customer engagement (meaning better customer experience), so these three taken together actually represent a significant percentage.

Digital transformation also tends to encompass the issue of mobile access, whether by employees, partners, or customers accessing everything from databases to inventories to orders. IT executives recognize that they can use cloud computing resources to serve this data to mobile devices quickly and efficiently. The payoff: they don’t have to commit internal resources for access that takes place periodically but nonetheless requires constant availability throughout any given 24-hour period.

Changing How Enterprises Think About The Cloud

Based on the results of this survey, and the underlying trends it reveals, the time has come to consider how enterprises’ priorities have evolved and how their perception of the cloud should evolve with them.

Arguably, there are some issues enterprises should never take for granted. That means having a frank discussion with cloud computing vendors on crucial issues, especially:

  • how they address industry-specific compliance issues to service-level agreements among providers or suppliers
  • how they handle cyber security and privacy, including cross-border regulations for data protection
  • how they deal with scalability, both in SaaS and hybrid scenarios

At the same time, IT executives can be confident that the discussion about cloud computing has shifted. Thanks to more-reliable networking, worries about reliability and performance have ebbed. Similarly, executives can thus spend less time talking about cost-savings (which tend to relate solely to IT’s budget) and more time talking about agility (which tends to accrue to the business side).

The overarching takeaway to these survey results is clear: cloud computing has matured quickly, and become an accepted capability within both the IT and the business toolbox, delivering significant capabilities to both in terms of flexibility and agility. Enterprises that don’t take advantage of cloud computing are going to be left behind, both in terms of productivity and customer engagement. That means IT executives need to start thinking about how their enterprise can benefit from migrating to the cloud now, rather than soon.

For more information on cloud migration, visit https://business.comcast.com/enterprise.

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