A Cloud Story III: Leapfrogging Isn’t Just For Kids


Perhaps the most important outcome of Cloud migrations, the real game changer, is that Cloud services can level the playing field. This is not necessarily good news for service managers in big firms. Fortune 500 firms are largely in the early adoption stage, but small firms and individuals have been deeply invested in Cloud services for years.  Of course, just a few years ago the typical small firm either had no proprietary applications, or just had what their nerdy kid brother could program. It wasn’t very good, and you only built what you couldn’t buy off the shelf at the local Big Box store. Getting access to ANY service that work all the time and had reasonable support moved you light years ahead.

Big firm support groups lived in an entirely different world. A Fortune 500 firm needs to move 10,000 users into the Cloud, in six different countries and they speak three different languages. You have a lot more to consider.  That’s why a tiny two person firm often has access to a very specific service that is MUCH more advanced than yours. Big firms used to have a huge advantage… SCALE! The high cost of new technology and dedicated support made innovative technology the domain of big firms. Only big firms could afford to reap the advantages of new technology and new techniques; smaller firms needed to wait for years until the technology was cheap enough for them to use:  telephones, teletype, faxes, mainframe computers, photo copiers, video recorders, video security, modems, etc. By then most of the competitive advantage was exhausted.  

Take cable TV as an example. The technology is as old as broadcast TV, but was largely limited to mountainous areas where radio waves were blocked. Deregulation in the early 70’s made national cable services feasible, and the growth of skyscrapers in major cities (blocking radio transmissions) created the perfect market for cable. Laying cable was expensive, so Manhattan’s close packed population was the best market for the 13 channels the new service offered. It would be decades before lower density suburbs and outlying towns became cost effective markets. By the mid-eighties customers were fighting to get to the top of the multi-year waiting list for the improved 26 channel service. Out in the suburbs potential users leapfrogged cable and adopted satellite dishes.  BIG, expensive dishes… that were too large for most city users to install. The suburbs now had the best service, at least for a little while. By the following decade tiny, inexpensive digital satellites (and eventually movies on demand and TIVO) were available. In the huge rush towards this technology, areas lacking cable service or unable to install/afford older format satellite antennas did the leapfrogging. Today, you can leapfrog again and use the internet to download free programing whenever you want, pay a small fee for more download movies/programming from services like Netflix, or get free or paid mixed media services (digital “newspapers”, like the New York Times, with embedded videos and slide shows).    

Yep, it’s leapfrog. Whoever is behind gets to move to the front in the next move, and gets the latest technology at a lower cost than the last user. The last user, who entered the game with older and more expensive technology, has to wait. How long… it all depends on how invested you are in your current solution. A Fortune 500 firm may have developed its first CRM tool 20 years ago, and upgraded it to a 3rd or 4th generation tool. But the latest Cloud based CRM (ex.: SalesForce, Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle’s Siebel) started with newer technology, supports a larger population, and provides more frequent upgrades, yielding a better product. Then what is your role as a provider of corporate services?

  1. Evaluate needs: If you’re a document center, and created your own custom macros, do better macros exist on the open market (in the Cloud or elsewhere)? Identify and understand the best products!
  2. Play well with others: Just because you can develop something on your own, it doesn’t mean you should. Work with other corporate groups (IT, Procurement, etc.) to introduce new products.
  3. Consider corporate concerns: Even a simple product (consider instant messengers) can have legal and security concerns. Make sure that you’re not creating a problem for the future.
  4. Think about the WHOLE service: Many Cloud project are focused on transferring a fraction of the whole service… the biggest pain point or the most difficult to manage function. For example: archiving/retrieval of very old files. A document center with a complex technical environment might require frequent outages for upgrades and maintenance; Cloud hosted applications could improve service delivery.  
  5. Redeploy efforts: Migrating a function to the Cloud may not by itself improve services, but it may free up resources for other projects. Choose carefully and you may get a double benefit.

Does that make sense? Look for your oldest functions, most outdated applications and most difficult to support services. Make a map of the functions within your group and how they are currently performed. Are there opportunities for improvement? Have you established metrics, produced management reports or developed customer satisfactions surveys to identify service gaps? A lot to think about but… that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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