Geoff Land of Infinity CCS looks at why the cloud is not always the right fit for every business, and how combining the cloud with other delivery solutions can maximise benefits.
Before AI took its crown last year, the most hyped technology revolution of recent years was the cloud.
We all know the benefits that cloud hosting and SaaS-type solutions can bring to our organisations; scalability, low cost of ownership, no capex outlay, low to no maintenance, easy integration using APIs, future-proofing, and greater geographical and operational flexibility.
But it does not necessarily mean that the cloud is the automatic, best solution for every company and every application.
For most companies the benefits the cloud brings are often worth the trade-off against its potential weaknesses, which can include vendor lock-in, limited customisability, and lack of final ownership. On the other hand, for those with data security and sovereignty issues the cloud might just not be an option at all.
Most of us likely also have expensive legacy systems that cannot be replaced – at least not yet – but which do need to work with other systems.
For all of these reasons very few companies, even start-ups, put everything including the kitchen sink in the cloud, despite having the option to do so. A combination of some cloud, some legacy, and some traditionally delivered software is usually the best mix – and for very good reasons.
Combining cloud, hosted, and on-site to maximise benefits
Looking in turn at each of the main business benefits of cloud adoption, we can see that there are other ways to access them, and that combining our options will usually give the best results.
Scalability: Even if you host a piece of software on a private cloud, in your own data centre, or on your office premises, you can still burst to a public cloud on demand if you need to increase capacity or expand geographically.
This is an option even if your software needs something to be installed on the user’s local device. In fact, for reasons to do with security, privacy, and richness of functionality many solutions we would call pure cloud require a local install anyway.
If you are a single site business, then even a traditional client terminal and local server software solution can be scaled up and down quickly. Add a fast, private data connection and multiple sites can be serviced too.
Integration: Getting different software solutions to play well with one another can be a problem for any type of system. Today, with the growth of APIs, this has been much simplified – and this also applies to traditional software not just cloud.
Compatibility nearly always depends on what you’re trying to integrate with what. Your 15-year-old Visual Basic proprietary legacy payment system is not easily going to talk with anything. While cloud offerings have pre-integrations with popular systems, the flipside of the coin is that the vendor has such a level of control that they can choose not to support an integration you need, and there’s little you can do about it.
Costs: The issue of up-front purchase costs and total cost of ownership is always going to be important for any business. Here there is no option that is objectively better than any other.
For some businesses, with a full bank account and a clear business plan for the next ten years, it’s going to be much less expensive to buy whatever they need outright. Others that perhaps keep a tighter rein on capital expenditure, or want the option to switch in a few years, would be better suited with a per-seat or per-license rental model.
If buying a system outright is not your preferred option, then many vendors of privately hosted or on-site software now offer low or no-capex payment models and flexible options to pay only for what you use in terms of seats and licenses, sometimes billable in units as small as per minute.
Maintenance: There is a school of thought that says it should not be necessary for your IT department to hire coders to support your legacy, proprietary and other on-site systems. Instead the responsibility for maintaining and updating code, and building new features, should be outsourced to the software provider.
There is much to this argument, however it does not necessarily follow that having in-house coding capability is always bad. Even if a lot of the solutions you use are in the cloud, it can always be useful for integration, for quickly building custom plugins, and for rapid prototyping – things that are beyond the normal remit of your software vendor.
Yes, you do want frontline and operational staff to have the ability to customise the software they use, or set up new campaigns, workflows and even integrations quickly without coding – but to be truly innovative, break the mould, and differentiate yourself in a crowded market, custom code will be needed.
After all, if you and your competitors are all using the same handful of software vendors, none of you are likely to stand out and so your margins will be eroded as you have to compete on price rather than the quality of your products, service and customer experience.
Flexibility: Even if your organisation buys software outright it doesn’t mean that you just install it and allow it to ossify and become obsolete. Most traditional enterprise software vendors will sign a contract for maintenance, bug fixing, custom integrations, and annual or bi-annual upgrades, including security patching.
While there is often greater flexibility for deployment with a cloud solution, as it can be wherever you need it to be, it doesn’t automatically follow that it’s easier to make changes, or to integrate it with other systems, or to get it to do something new.
In truth, some cloud solutions can be as proprietary and inflexible as on-site ones. The platform owner, be it Amazon, Google, Salesforce, or the provider of some niche SaaS platform, builds a product to cover the generic needs of a broad range of customers. What you need might fall nicely into the range of things the platform does, but it likely doesn’t offer everything you would want in an ideal world, or do them in exactly the way you would like.
Sure, there will be some options to customise but there is going to be a bit of compromise, fudging and making do.
Many IT leaders thought that the cloud made them more agile, yet are now discovering that proprietary systems limit their ability to innovate and drive business growth. Issues range from poor platform performance to maintenance difficulties to outdated business-user tools.
But as we have seen, cloud is not the only way. We are seeing businesses increasingly adopt a mixture of cloud and hosted environments. This is leading to a lot more flexibility in vendor selection as companies choose to explore and experiment with mixed solutions.