Why I’m staring at clouds (cloud computing, that is)

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re falling behind, no longer at the sharp end of technology if, like me, you’re a bit bewildered by the idea of so-called cloud computing, drifting slowly by. For me, “the cloud” is just a new riff on an old way of doing things.

Before I begin, let me just say this isn’t going to be some in-depth analysis of cloud computing, simply because I’m not that IT literate. And, for the most part, I’m sure such a review would have an exceptionally narrow audience. Instead, I’m going to skip the technicalities and offer my opinion on the cloud.

I have various parts of my digital life and work on the web, scattered hither and yonder. Mostly, these electronic excerpts of my life are to be found in the form of profiles, bookmarks, portfolios, with websites and articles representing the more substantiative end of the electro-content-centric spectrum.

What I don’t have on the web is anything specifically work related, in so far as archived data. Why? Two reasons, the first of which being that I live in a rural area and sit at the end of what’s called the “last mile”, a telecommunication euphemism for having a rubbish broadband connection, while secondly, I just don’t trust the internet that much.

A security storm cloud for Sony

To some, that final statement must appear like an unusual admission coming from someone like me, a business owner who builds web applications for a living. But let me just quote a message I saw on Twitter earlier, written by Adi Kingsley-Hughes:

“Before everyone pours their financial information into Google Wallet, let me just say one thing … Sony.”

Remember the Sony fiasco, where, firstly 77 million user accounts for their PlayStation network were illegally accessed, followed by an additional 24 million? Yes, that Sony. And the truly tragic irony is, the attack was actually launched from Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing platform.

So, for myself at least, if the likes of Sony can’t keep customer data safe, I really don’t hold out much hope for anyone else, Google included. And that’s just the security side of things. Then there’s what I call the all-or-nothing aspect of cloud computing.

It never rains, but it pours. Even for Google?

Let’s say you’ve taken the Google shilling and you’re using one of their Chrome OS laptop computers, that shoves all of your stuff up into the magical ether. Now, while Google will claim they can keep you going while you’re away from an internet connection, storing some of your stuff on your computer, for how long can you work like this when that all-important spreadsheet is presently residing on a server somewhere in the North America Mid-West?

And this is Google, arguably the most well resourced company in the world. From this perspective, you can easily see the cliff edge at which most other companies offering similar services would immediately drop off when their vastly smaller resources are included into the equation of you requiring access to your stuff. In the world of cloud computing, you either have everything, or you have nothing.

But cloud computing offers another potential problem, because we have Google and Amazon offering similar cloud-based services for their music offerings, too. Apple have something similar lined up, but crucially, they have seen the potential problems with the cloud and have a hybrid in mind, where you keep your music and movies on your computer, but will also be able to access them remotely from some other location, away from your computer.

This all kind of reminds me of that real world all-or-nothing situation, when the power goes out.

“Hmm, no TV. Oh well, I’ll make a cup of coffee.”

And then you realize you need power for that.

“Okay, skip that. I’ll listen to some music.”

And then you realize you need power for that, too.

“Damn it! Right, I’ll read a non-electronic book of the paper variety!”

But it’s now dark, and you need power for the lights.

Looking back, from the future

In fifty years time, this article will probably be ensconced in academic literature, highlighting the quaint concerns of the early internet, before becoming self-aware and omnipresent. For now, it isn’t and it’s not, and I’m here staring at clouds, while I work on my computer, reasonably safe in the knowledge that I have access to my stuff whenever if not wherever I am.

Just what can Apple, Google teach us about avoiding competition in business?

In this age of hyper connectivity, if you think that you’re in direct competition with someone else, there’s something wrong with your business strategy. For many businesses, there’s an angle or a niche just waiting to be exploited — and the key to unlocking this success is to not compete at all.

Look at Google and Apple, for example; Apple no more just make computers than Google are just in the search business. When you elect to use one of Google’s business software applications like Gmail or Wave, or when you choose to buy an iMac or MacBook Pro from Apple, you’re buying into a statement-making philosophy — Apple and Google exude minimalist simplicity.

For those that choose to compete with such industry behemoths, they choose to engage in a battle with two businesses that can churn out complementary innovations with unerring and repetitious ease, designed to stultify even the hardiest of business strategies — just ask Microsoft, a competitor to both Apple and Google and a company that is losing in key markets to both.

Controlling the business experience

Apple control the whole computer experience from the moment you walk into one of their stores, even beyond you pulling out your credit card. From then on, you’re within the gears and cogs of a very slick, highly artificial but incredibly refined and precisely managed event, culminating not in a purchase, as is the case with their competitors, but at the moment you begin using your Apple product for the first time. Why? Because it’s about the experience.

For those who use Google’s new Wave, an innovative collaborative communications tool, or Gmail, their highly respected web email client, you’re working within an ultra-efficient software environment that apes the features of bigger commercial software like Microsoft Office, but instead gives you just what you need to accomplish the task at hand, and for free.

By way of a disclaimer, I’ll freely admit that not everyone has the luxury of moving their businesses around in such a way as to reduce their exposure to competition. But for those that are nimble and fleet-footed enough to spot a niche, it’s worth expending the effort and exploring those gaps in the market.

So what’s the take-away moral of this story? Your task is to look at what you do, compare that to what your competitors do and create an experience that is so compelling, so enhanced and so client-centric that the added value nature of your service is reason enough for those clients to justify the expense of choosing you over anyone else.

The term premiumization springs to mind, and while apt, it’s a buzzword I personally dislike. And here’s some ideas about how to distance yourself from those around you: And here’s some ideas about how to distance yourself from those around you:

  • Personalize your service from beginning to end.
  • Think about your clients needs and anticipate in advance what they might want, then…
  • … Exceed the expectations / needs of your clients.
  • If possible, avoid competing on price and concentrate on quality.
  • Demonstrate just how much you know your industry and start your own blog.
  • Keep things simple, avoid buzzwords and don’t be afraid to say no!

Today, more than at any other time, there are just too many businesses doing the same things. Between differentiation and diversification hides a strategy that will help you build a service-driven business that places quality and your clients before all else.