Most technologies go through some period of being overhyped and failing to live up to inflated expectations set forth by the vendor community. Cloud, however, has been the exception.
Cloud services have become ubiquitous — you’d be hard-pressed to find a company today that isn’t using at least a little bit of something from the cloud. And many organizations have directives to utilize cloud services first, when available. Make no mistake: The cloud era not only has arrived, but is taking over.
However, we are on the tip of a cloud transition point. In fact, I think we are about to hit the third phase of the cloud — one that will fundamentally change the way we live, allowing us to do things we couldn’t do without the cloud.
Before I go into my vision for cloud phase three, here’s a recap of the first two phases.
Cloud Phase One: Efficiency and Cost
In any technology cycle, the first phase of the new thing is to make it look like the old thing — only cheaper and more efficient. For example, we replaced mainframe screens with PCs, but then went ahead and installed mainframe emulators on them so workers wouldn’t be disrupted. Then we migrated to Windows, but ran DOS shells in the window. Brilliant!
In the voice world, IP PBXs replaced PBXs, but the architecture didn’t change at all. Transport was certainly more efficient, and running an IP network was cheaper than maintaining parallel networks, but we spent enormous energy on making the new stuff look and act like the old stuff.
In the cloud industry, shifting an entire IP PBX into the cloud drove the initial UCaaS offerings. Cloud UC is operationally simpler, and arguably cheaper, but it’s not all that different architecturally from premises solutions.
Cloud Phase Two: True Mobility
One of the benefits of the cloud compute model versus traditional compute models is that it eliminates the need for local storage. Consider “legacy mobility” (which is what I call portability), in which a worker heading out on a business trip would have needed to copy any necessary application or content to his device’s local hard drive or to a USB stick, and possibly even send what he needed to himself in an email. The worker would also have needed to ensure he had all important contacts in his phone, as bridging between the office phone and mobile device wasn’t possible.
Fast-forward to today, and we are now truly mobile. Heading out on a trip with only a tablet? No problem… just pull the latest company deck from Box. Forget your iPhone in a taxi? Again, no problem… just sync with iCloud and everything is back. Need somebody on the other side of the world to look over a PowerPoint too big to email? OK, just save it to Office 365 and share the link. The cloud lets us achieve true mobility — letting us do what we need to, when we need to, on any device.
Cloud Phase 3: Contextual/Predictive Services
The third phase of the cloud will fundamentally change the way we interact with content and services. In the first two phases, users had to take action and fetch content. This shouldn’t have to be the case.
Consider an example in which flight itineraries automatically populate in my calendar when I receive an email with them from my travel provider. If I’m running Waze on the day of my flight, I receive a message saying, “Based on current traffic, you should leave for the airport now.” I didn’t have to go fetch the information, like the addresses of my home and the airport. Rather, Waze knew them based on contextual data.
Apply that to a business context and workers can become smarter, move faster, and be better informed. Apply some machine learning, and companies could see game-changing results. Looking to build a project team? With AI, a bot could scan all of your organization’s content related to that topic, and determine the best team based on thought leadership, personality types, and any other criteria.
The cloud is the only way to achieve contextual communications, as it is massively scalable, elastic, and is able to sift through terabytes of data quickly.
However, the road to getting there will be a challenge, and we’ll encounter some interesting questions along the way. They include:
What are the key enabling technologies for cloud 2020?
Which verticals are the low-hanging fruit for cloud 2020?
How will cloud providers share data to maximize customer value?
What should customers be investing in today to be ready for the next phase of the cloud?
What will the cost and pricing model for services like this be?
Will we need traditional communication systems when “cloud 2020” emerges?
Next Monday, March 27, at Enterprise Connect Orlando, I will be exploring these questions and more during the one-day Enterprise Communications & Collaboration 2020 conference within a conference. Join me at 9:00 a.m. for the session, “Cloud Communications 2020: Will Enterprises Go to UCaaS – and Beyond?,” for which five really smart industry people will be joining me: Greg Zweig, director of solutions marketing at Genband; Mark Straton, VP of content marketing and media relations at BroadSoft; Matt McGinnis, VP of product marketing at 8×8; Mark Bissell, senior director for cloud collaboration at Cisco, and Scott Johnson, director of enterprise customer engineering at Microsoft.