Get your head in the cloud

Cloud or “adaptive” computing is one of several emerging technologies that offers strategic advantages relevant to companies across many industries.

December 29, 2011   by Michael Ianni-Palarchio

Cloud or “adaptive” computing is one of several emerging technologies that offers strategic advantages relevant to companies across many industries. Manufacturers leveraging this new technology will enjoy greater flexibility in the way they procure and operate technology, which will lead to cost savings and growth.

Here’s a real world example: A 90-employee manufacturer needed to implement a single e-mail system across a number of plant locations. The usual approach is to deploy an internal solution that requires an internal server and software licensing for it and the desktop computers. Added costs include backup systems in the event of a disaster and a labour component for set-up and deployment.

With adaptive computing, companies such as Microsoft and Google provide cloud-based offerings for e-mail. Servers, licensed software, backup infrastructure and labour all reside “in the cloud,” which is to say, it’s all managed by the host company on a monthly, per-user fee.

Adaptive flexibility
The manufacturer’s employees had different needs for e-mail access. Those who worked on the plant floor needed occasional access to e-mail, people in offices carrying out administrative functions required continuous access and the small sales team needed mobile service. The adaptive model allowed for flexible licensing of services. Plant-floor workers accessed a special web-based service from kiosks, while the sales force easily and securely accessed e-mail from a variety of mobile devices.

The benefits go beyond the technical. Rather than investing $25,000 to $30,000 upfront for a solution, the manufacturer turned the cost into a $1,000 per month operating expense.

Adaptive computing also spans an array of IT services such as storage, backup, CRM, collaboration and security. During the recession, service providers saw increased demand from businesses looking to improve their bottom lines. Adaptive computing is also scalable and allows manufacturers to leverage best-in-class solutions while focusing on their core businesses.

But there are a number of factors to consider:

• Location of data. When your company decides to leverage the cloud, data will reside outside your organization. Consider any potential restrictions that might exist. For example, manufacturers may have agreements with customers that stipulate data must reside in the country of origin.

• Security. Thorough due diligence is critical. Many service providers offer security that far exceeds your company’s measures, but some don’t. Ensure the provider offers best-in-class security.

• Exit strategy. Have an exit strategy in the event you want to move to another provider or bring the service inside. Avoid services that lock you into proprietary solutions that make it hard to reclaim your data.

There are three key steps to take when moving to an adaptive solution:

• Inventory all IT systems and upcoming initiatives to identify what could be migrated to an adaptive environment.

• Start with something less critical to gain some experience. Compare your outcomes with other companies.

• Understand your current technology environment to ensure there are no potential barriers, such as insufficient internet bandwidth, lack of connectivity redundancy or other system dependencies.

Ultimately, adaptive computing (or getting your head in the clouds) unlocks an enormous amount of value for your organization.

Michael Ianni-Palarchio is the director of systems and technology at consulting firm RSM Richter in Toronto. E-mail