Dragged, kicking and screaming into the 1950s…

What goes around, comes around, as they say. There’s very little new: just variations on an existing idea. So it is with Cloud Computing. It seems to me that we are dragging the un-enlightened, kicking and screaming in to the 1950s. You know, that place-and-time where no organisation owned a computer – apart from a few large “computer companies”. In modern parlance, I guess we’d call these companies “Cloud Operators”. Back then, if you wanted a computer to do some work for you, there was only really one way. You wrote a computer program, typically on a teletype. You then created either a length of paper-tape or a punched card and you sent it to the computer company, typically in the surface-mail or by courier. They’d run your program for you and send back the results.

These computer companies would run anybody’s program – for a fee. What they actually provided were compute resources. At the time, businesses that would benefit used programs, programmers and computer companies to create innovative advantages for themselves. An insurance company using incredibly lengthy, iterative algorithms for computing the risk of certain policies and policyholders would be able to bring products to market more quickly than their rivals who were still using teams of people with log tables and slide rules. As long as their programming was an accurate representation of the problem, they could get a leg-up on their rivals. They had discovered agility. Not only that, they could also afford to play around with parameters in their programs and run what-if scenarios, almost on a whim. They transferred the problem from doing the calculation to writing the program. Once the program was written, running it multiple times with different parameters was trivial. It was also cheaper. Today, thinking of an agile business as one that used valve-driven computer resources and hand-wound memory cores seems quaint. But back then – it’s exactly how it was. And it really took a long time for it to capture the imagination of most organisations. I wrote my first computer program using exactly these techniques, teletype, paper-tape etc., in 1978. It’s true that DEC had introduced the first “interactive” computers in the late 60s, with green-screen terminals, but they were still rare in most organisations even by the late 70s.

So here we are today – the computing power and capacity of my phone is thousands of times higher than that first computer I used in 1978, but cloud computing gives organisations exactly the same opportunities as computer companies did in the 1950s: agility at an affordable price. I believe the organisations that will be successful with cloud computing are those with imagination; capable of thinking beyond the universe of business problems as they stand today. Phenomena like Facebook, Yahoo etc. – ideas created on a small scale but which today have an impact on billions of people’s lives – will be much more commonplace in the future. Cloud Computing allows democratises the business ideas of the crazy and the whacky and allows them to compete with the biggest most multi-national, most established companies in the world. The barriers no longer exist.

It’s not new. Elements of it are new, technologies and business models are new – but the basic idea of getting an organisation with massive capacity to run your computer programs for you – that was at the forefront of the modernisation of post-war economies in the USA, Canada and Europe. We’ve seen massive agility, we’ve seen the entire face of business change, we’ve seen organisation that embraced this technology walk over their slower, more reserved competitors as if they were a mere bump in the road. The strange thing about this is that it would have been so inexpensive and convenient for many of the companies that failed to embrace technology back in the 50s, to try it. Why didn’t they? Well, I guess although there was great post-war optimism, the idea of change was not de-rigeur in those days. I haven’t researched this, but I’m imagining it was the “young upstart” organisations that embraced that change, who got ahead of their slow-to-react rivals.

I think it’s those organisations I am addressing with this post. The ones who are being dragged, kicking and screaming in to the 1950s. The ones who have not looked at the Cloud, have no strategy around it, think it doesn’t apply to them. These organisations have one thing that future cloud-based “young upstarts” don’t have. Experience. The combination of business and technology experience, combined with the opportunities the cloud can offer is there waiting to be plucked by those forward-thinking, agile, adaptive organisations. But there will be casualties.

If you work in one of those organisations, start thinking about the cloud and the business problems it solves now. Drive the creation of a strategy. But don’t take 5 years to create the strategy. It’ll be too late. It’ll be the 1960s by then…

Planky – GBR-257

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