Thursday, February 16, 2012

Data in Motion (a Cloud Story)

Data in Motion
A Cloud Story

Firms have begun to talk about the benefits of their investments in Cloud Computing Services. According to a survey conducted by a large Cloud Service Provider, the biggest area of measurable financial return has been collaboration. The majority of their larger installed clients who responded have seen collaboration as the most important result of their migration into the cloud.

If collaboration was the expressed benefit for migrations to the cloud, during 2011, then I think we will see the next wave to be within workflow. You might term workflow as the art acting upon data in motion. I believe that we will see benefits within workflow for the same reasons companies exploited the cloud for collaboration: mobile devices are everywhere and the cloud allows you to exploit those devices.

Originally Cloud Computing was seen as an outsourcing play. Outsourcing had the traditional business “value” of being a service that you could buy cheaper than you could build. The better Cloud Solution Providers made the data center investments to demonstrate their reliability, recoverability, and security. As an example you can learn about Google’s Data Centers by clicking the link. This allows you to see how your data’s file name is hidden, how your file is broken into noncontiguous sub-components or sharded, how data center security is enforced, and how energy conservation is managed.

The collaborative power of the cloud became evident as users began to securely access cloud infrastructures with any device and from any Internet reachable location. The Cisco Corporation’s Mobile Data Traffic Forecast quantifies what we all have seen - users have gone mobile. Smart phones, tablets, laptops, and public PCs are being used by business employees from every imaginable location. The delivery of services from cloud providers who have integrated support for multiple mobile devices has freed employees to do business from any location. This “connected - mobility” finally gave the push organizations needed to remove location as an excuse for fully participating in the work value chain. Not since the introduction of the pager has the “office” been so aware of where the employees are.  Not since the widespread adoption of the mobile phone have we (as employees) been so available for collaboration. With the right cloud delivered service I am able to conduct a live webinar, participate in a group video chat, edit a document with a team of other remote workers, update my crm, and check my email.  

It is this same “connected - mobility” that will power the next benefit of cloud delivered services. An application delivered via a cloud infrastructure can reach any mobile device carried by any member of a business’ value chain no matter for whom that person works, this allows firms to process data in motion.

As an example of “data in motion”: there are cloud applications that automatically grade quizzes; deliver the detailed quiz results to the student; create metric reports for the teacher; and update the grade book. The teacher creates the quiz and the data is processed as it comes in from students. That application will work equally well if those students are in one classroom or spread across the world.  
Imagine the application that will let each of your disparate sub-contractors confirm receipt and completion of their work asynchronously from mobile web apps. Here is an example: Your call center schedules a client appointment; the application automatically assigns the appointment to the nearest service sub-contractor. The application presents a confirmation request to that sub-contractor; later, when that sub-contractor performs their work they interact with the application to indicate the activities that were completed. The call center gets a pop-up for a client follow-up call; the invoice is generated, and service timeliness’ reports are produced.  
These applications exit today but, with “connected - mobility” you are able to deliver these applications to individuals involved in any workflow no matter what device they carry. Your firm doesn’t have to code to a particular device. Your firm is not even responsible for the cost of the end device. Sub-contractors and partners who want to be part of your value chain bring the mobile device of their choice to the party, and you provide a browser based web app to grab data input as they move through their day. Your process automation extends across the entire workflow with no concern for organizational boundaries. With the right cloud platform, you will have the ability to securely deliver your application screens to any device anywhere and have the ability to process data in motion that is input into you application, or accessed from other data sources that are present in local or cloud provisioned data repositories.

The move to the cloud is a platform decision that goes beyond the build vs. buy decision. Your return from a migration to the cloud will be broader than a reduction in Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). You will financially benefit from TCO, collaboration, and from “data in motion”. Some of the factors that go into the platform evaluation are:
  • Data/service availability, recovery, protection, and security
  • Support for document collaboration
  • Integrated support for the mobile devices used by your organization and its collaborative partners
    • iPad, iPhone, Android tablet, Android Phone, PC, laptop
  • The application development environment
    • Scalable to workload
    • Data input and output APIs to allow connections to other systems and data repositories
    • Integrated mobile device support
    • Secure device connections
    • Code that runs independently of the end users device
    • Secure data repositories

I wish you luck as you look for business impacting workflows to automate utilizing the connecting power of the cloud. The devices are out there it is time to play catch-up.