The Cloud Changes Work

by Dave Michels

With any new technology wave, the first hurdle is to be as good as the status quo. Once this is met, the benefits of the new technology can be applied and a new value proposition is formed. This expanded/different value proposition is the core difference between a disruptive technology and a sustaining technology. VoIP went through this – it had lots of benefits, but the critical threshold it had to cross was comparable quality (now better) than TDM. But after VoIP was adopted, the way we worked changed – click to dial, teleworking, unified messaging, etc. The cloud is changing the way we work, and its time to reexamine old assumptions.

Cloud computing is crossing this threshold with traditional client/server computing. It didn’t cross over on a certain date, it has been a gradual transition with various feature/benefits in specific applications. But the first hurtle was cloud services to be as _________ (fill in:secure, available, fast, feature rich, etc.) as traditional client/server solutions. The low hanging fruit was email. As users (especially consumers) moved from POP email to cloud services, the value proposition changed. Cloud email services (MSN, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo!, etc.) offered improved remote access and mobility. Forget VPN’s or forwarding email to consumer accounts, cloud email had a better proposition. Then came improved SPAM and virus management, backups, storage, search, mobile integration, etc, and a new value prop was born.

The same thing happening now with the Office suites; specifically Google Docs. There are alternatives – I hear favorable things about Zoho, but I moved to Google Docs for most of my day to day documents and find the value proposition so much stronger than client based software. Consider:

  • GoogleLookup/API calls
  • Collaboration
  • Sharing

GoogleLookup: In the old model, formulas calculated values, but with a cloud sheet, a formula can lookup the value. Consider this equation: =GoogleLookup(“Cisco”,”CEO”)

It will return “John T. Chambers” in the cell. I’ve been playing with the GoogleLookup function and although it isn’t perfect, it is very useful. The responses don’t need to be limited to a Google search either.

Last month Cloudvox released a new API called Digits. It allows anyone to perform a reverse lookup on a phone number. You can use the URL to get basic public information about the number. Cloudvox is a division of IfbyPhone which offers telephony APIs and applications on demand. Digits provides the information through publicly available sources and can return the city, state, telecom carrier, date of first use, and neighborhood associated with a phone number via an API for no charge. If you have a spreadsheet full of phone numbers and you want to add cities or states to it, you can create a custom function in Google Spreadsheets to get that information. Digits is used by various groupware and collaboration Web applications, sales lead tracking, CRM sites, and social network applications.

Group collaboration capabilities are also part of Google Docs. I learned about this from my teenage son. It is great to have multiple people contributing and editing a spreadsheet or other document in real time. The new (soon to be released) upgrade to Google Docs will allow character by character real time editing/collaboration for up to 50 users on a single document/sheet. That sounds equally crazy and impressive. Collaboration changes the way we work, my son was doing a group project and the entire group was working on the assignment at the same time. Kids don’t find this amazing at all.

But what I really like about using cloud based Office is document sharing. I used to email documents, but then I felt I couldn’t make any more edits or changes. Emailing documents stop time and create work – multiple versions get separate updates at different times. Now, I just send a link to the document, and continue to work on it. No more loss of productivity while waiting for the mail. If you are diehard Word user, you can upgrade Word 2007 to a similar Cloud model with a new offering from Central Desktop. It is a cloud add-on for older versions of Office to enable some collaboration. It is not a web app so all parties will need Office, but it introduces cloud services to the Office client.

The cloud’s impact will be profound. I see two major shifts occurring; real time expectations and device independence. So many client/server environments don’t do things in real time – known as batch mode. Banks are the worst, refusing to recognize transactions until they post, but us non bankers expect information to be current. Amazon sells, ships, and updates in real time. Batch processing isn’t a viable option in a real time world. We want our email and news as it comes. We always did, but didn’t have a choice before. Remember waiting for the evening news or newspaper to find out what happened?

Just a few years ago I used one pc (a notebook I carried to/from work everyday) and a PDA that I had to sync constantly to avoid conflicts. I no longer carry a computer around with me. I have a work computer, a home computer, and a travel notebook. They are all totally separate machines, but yet always in sync (documents, calendar, contacts, bookmarks, etc.). Same is true with my cell phone. The platform doesn’t matter, I just use the browser and different browsers at that. There are options besides Google. Check out ZumoDrive, it’s a virtual network drive for files that all devices can access. I do have problems printing from my Linux notebook. Printing is the Achilles heel of the cloud. But there is a Google initiative called CloudPrint that aims to make printers easier to use from any browser or OS.
The manufacturers of the old architecture know the cloud will have a huge impact on workflow. According to Microsoft’s Ballmer, “Microsoft is “all in” on the cloud. Just recently he spoke at the University of Washington and said “We are betting the company on [Cloud Computing]”. This month IBM purchased a cloud computing startup called Cast Iron, that helps tie internal software to applications running in the cloud. Apple has numerous cloud strategies, but consider the iPad – a computer without a keyboard or much storage – it’s effectively built for the cloud.
The cloud is evolving rapidly, changing expectations and costs of information. HTML5 will dramatically increase the capabilities of the browser – eliminating even more reasons for client/server applications (including cell phone apps).
Watch for separate posts on specific topics around cloud telephony.
I love it when a cloud comes together.