Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Changing Clouds

There is a great interview with 26 year old CEO of Box.net, Aaron Levie, who has a company raising $100m and worth $500m on Linked in today.

Having tried my best with Microsoft Office 365 and its SharePoint back end I have despaired as to why it has been bundled into a product aimed at small businesses like mine. It's so inflexible, difficult to work and really misses the point about the way and millions like me work. In fact it misses a fundamental point about The Cloud. I don't want programs and solutions that require IT input - it's the whole point. I want less IT input.

Levie pouts out that Microsoft has basically tried to shoehorn things into Office 365 and he's right. I wanted a hosted Exchange (I already had one) and what would have been really cool would have been a central way of holding my data so that I could use my data on any device while being securely backed up. Not SharePoint. Loading files on to it is a nightmare and you are given only small Workspaces, whatever they are. My reseller wanted to set up some templates for me but I went back to using Dropbox and Box.net as these products really understand the way I work. I am constantly on the move, interworking with PC and iPad and I cannot afford to stop and focus on IT. It just has to work.

Levie is also right. The Cloud gives me the ability to choose best of breed applications and pay as I go. I use Salesforce.com as it is unbeatable in the CRM field and I use Office 365 as I interface with so many Microsoft based clients. I use Dropbox for flexibility and I use Evernote for on the fly note making, project tracking and feeding my blog articles because they are cheap and simple.

But there will be a lot of this 'shoehorning' over the coming months and years when it comes to Cloud. Many vendors have so much invested in on premise version of their product that they simply don't know who to get involved in the Cloud without protecting all that investment. They are becoming obsesses with keeping old customers and trying to attract new but keep somehow keep the same worlds and make the same money.

It is for the opposite reasons that companies are successful in Cloud applications. I eagerly await iCloud from Apple as I think it will answer many of the big issues for small businesses. I think Google are on to something in their Apps. But what I am convinced of is that the way we interact with computers has changed for ever and innovative new software companies are making available thousands of clever little (and large) apps which are helping.

Big vendors with argue these are fads and are not business grade. I would argue strongly that Dropbox, Box.net, Evernote, NoteTaker HD and 7Notes HD will get a foothold as they solve problems in modern day working. There are many, many more like GoToDocs, BlogPress and GoDocs which are similar. I would argue we have been constrained by the bounds of the PC for far too long and the Cloud simply reignites the imagination when it comes to truly mobile computing.

I have had an issue in converting to Office 365. For some random reason key names in my contacts list have gone walkabout - nothing big just senior executives of big companies, fancily and that sort of thing. Sitting in the reception of a large company on Friday I needed to call someone important and 365 had mislaid that person's information. I didn't miss a beat. I went online to Salesforce.com via the 3G network with my iPad and looked up the person in just 10 seconds. Office 365 tries to be a bit of everything but it fails in key areas when you need it. As Aaron Levie puts it, 'Office 365 is a jack of all trades and master of none' and he's right. In the PC world we would have put with that.

But in The Cloud I don't have time to forgive, be almost at my best and pay through the nose for it. I want the best, I want availability and I don't want to pay over the odds.

To vendors moving in from PC land - you are best trying to build new products than just shoehorning, is my advice. That's a huge diversion but it may be your best chance to innovate away from the shackles of where you have come from. The Cloud is giving users dilemmas in choice - 1) support the old and compromise or 2) go new and change.

Don't underestimate the power of users defining that decision rather than IT people making it for them. If you think that old method will last forever just look at what the market is telling you in the PC, smartphones and tablet trends. Users are voting with their feet and are interfacing with their old world and buying software a new way. It's a tsumani of change.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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