Cloudsourcing: The hazy, lazy days of Summer
Remember as children, those hazy, lazy days in Summer, we used to lie on the grass gazing at the shapes that clouds made as they crossed that clear blue sky above? "That one looks like a map of England", or "that one is like a giraffe", or "that one looks like you". We were cloud watching. And now today, as Spring arrives and blue skies emerge from the dullness of Winter, it is ironic that we should now be doing the same thing. Cloud watching, yet not in the sky.
The adoption of Cloud services to date has been driven by dipping a toe in the water, sometimes a big toe, but a toe nonetheless. As I wrote in my previous article, many of these early Cloud adopting businesses have started with core generic processes such as HR, Finance or CRM. Some have looked at the commodity hosting benefits of scalable public cloud infrastructures and platforms such as Amazon or Force. Some have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, e-mail and office apps from providers such as Microsoft and Google. All have found that it is not a painless process to adopt and utilise these services, but that in the majority of cases they do drive benefits in the form of increased agility and/or decreased cost of service provisioning.
It feels as though we are about to move down a tangential evolutionary path. IT services have developed over the past twenty years through driving efficiency by scale. Outsourcers consolidate infrastructure provision across an IT function, or they group applications together in an Apps Management construct. These are connected through variant implementations of service desks, network provisioning, on-site support and more. If you want to outsource, there is an established path to follow, clear in terms of the procurement, the transition and the operation of such services. We know how they work, we know what to do. IT has evolved.
Cloudsourcing is a term with some adoption which recognises that the outsource model of the future is not necessarily one where the outsource provider provides their infrastructure or their applications development or management capability. Cloudsourcers are aggregators of cloud services - they broker the best fitting cloud service based on their understanding of the business requirement expressed by their client. Their behaviour (at least in a mature Cloud market) ought to be like the insurance brokers of the 1980s - attempting to find the right service (whether SaaS or IaaS or otherwise), but of course also like the 80s, being aware of allegiances or kick-backs from particular providers to favour certain services .
I like the concept of Cloudsourcing, but one aspect of it does not sit comfortably with me, notably the point in the Wikipedia article when it refers to 100% Cloud based solutions. I don't buy it. The point about Cloud is that whilst it does represent a new paradigm, it is not necessarily the universal answer for everything - definitely not today, probably not next year and I suspect not in ten. However, it does offer consumers of IT services the option of determining what is commoditised in their IT estate. It moves the differentiation line within the business. Businesses will be able to determine what BUSINESS functions they want to drive greater agility in, in other cases to drive the lowest cost and thereby receive a service that is good enough. But there should be no one-size-fits-all approach as that will be doomed to fail. We should recognise that different business units and different business functions have different priorities and goals. Our goal as IT service providers is to align our service provision to those needs. Cloud Computing gives us another tool in our armoury to do that.
If Cloudsourcing (as a term) evolves to recognise a hybrid IT service estate, one that fuses together Public and Private infrastructure Clouds with (on occasion) dedicated data centre services, fuses together legacy applications, SaaS and PaaS applications and services, and wraps these in a way that presents an aggregation and brokerage service with a service management (or advisory) layer, then I buy that. I like that.
Cloudsourcing - watching clouds as they drift past: constantly changing, forming, evolving, moving, disappearing. We need to make sense of this landscape. Undoubtedly, IT Service providers need to become effective forecasters of the weather, identifying the clouds that are best for our clients and those that just represent an impending storm.