Cloud ROI: Of the people, by the people, for the people

Companies are shifting resources to the cloud for a variety of reasons: efficiency, cost, analytics, customer service, etc. While these are worthy goals, there’s a more fundamental objective that companies leveraging the cloud should strive for: unlocking the collective brainpower of your workforce and customer base.

While the term “social” means different things to different people, at the heart of the concept lies an understanding that people are the organization’s most valuable asset. In a truly “social” business, technology implementations -- be they cloud, mobile or social media -- all support the ability of your workforce to collaborate, innovate and remain agile. To offer a techy twist on James Carville’s famous election season adage, when it comes to maximizing cloud investment, it’s the people, stupid, that ultimately determine the value of your implementation.

How smart, or stupid, then, are today’s cloud-dwelling companies? If research our firm recently conducted on how companies are using Salesforce is an indicator, opinions regarding the concept of social fall into four camps: 22% don’t believe it’s worth their time; 31% “aren’t there yet” but view it as an important shift; 10% believe it’s important but don’t know how to proceed; and 24% are currently working toward it. In light of these attitudes, it wasn’t that surprising to find that 30 percent of companies using Salesforce are in “reactive” mode with huge backlogs, adoption challenges, and no new feature pipeline. At the other end of the spectrum, 20 percent are in a mode aptly described as “agile”, and are essentially maximizing their cloud investment. What’s the secret sauce these companies are using to get the most from the cloud? To answer that, you have to first establish the true scope of the investment.

The real investment scope -- bigger than you might think

The true cost of cloud is greater than many realize. While the cloud removes the burden of paying up to 10 times the amount for self-hosted applications, it is a mistake to think that there are no costs beyond the purchase of licenses and consulting services. Additional factors influence the true cost of cloud investment, including ongoing innovation, governance and adoption.

These factors give rise to challenges such as keeping cloud solutions aligned with changing business needs, understanding how to budget and staff resources necessary to innovate the solutions, and determining how to best serve diverse constituents. The key to overcoming these challenges involves wrapping your entire thought process around the user experience.

Six “easy” tips to maximize your cloud investment

Let me say upfront that these tips might require you to change the way things have been done before in your organization. But you’ll find life to be much easier if you follow these tips than if your cloud infrastructure spirals out of control, becoming unmanageable and pretty much useless to your organization:

  • Form a cloud governance board. While your system may stagnate with too little innovation, conversely it may break down under the stress of too much innovation. A ‘cloud governance board’ -- a fancy name for a task force comprised of executive and departmental stakeholders (preferably with very large craniums) overseeing use of cloud technology -- can establish system stability and ensure all changes occur at appropriate intervals and address top priority business issues.
  • Gamify adoption. Convincing users of the value of the application is no easy task. Game mechanics are increasingly leveraged to bring everyone onboard. Among other things, this can bring people into the fold who have no interest in participating by making good use of a motivator that isn’t normally associated with a great work ethic -- instant gratification.
  • Prime the feedback loop. Cloud solutions are only as good as your ability to iterate them to your organization’s needs, so you’ve got to keep your finger on the pulse of what your people need, like, don’t like, and what they want next. Give them an easy way to provide feedback, and make their input a systematic part of your governance board’s decisionmaking process.
  • No graduation day for training. Cloud functionality has the ability to be iterated indefinitely -- its flexibility drives its value. The day you conclude training on a particular application, therefore, is the day that your workforce begins to fall behind.
  • Don’t think of the cloud as simple. Cloud solutions may alleviate the headaches of hosting, but the infinite flexibility of these platforms actually adds a new layer of complexity. If you’re thinking of cloud solutions as on-premise apps that you don’t have to host, you’re short-changing your organization.
  • Use naughty words. The profanity in question is actually not of the four-letter ilk, but rather “outsourcing,” which has become a dirty word as of late because of it’s association with “offshoring,” a controversial political issue. It’s too bad, because offshoring is just one kind of outsourcing. Companies are now outsourcing less for cost savings than to gain the ability to access the right talent resources at the right time. In other words, they’re bringing in contractors, managed services, consulting firms and other outside resources to create a workforce that is as elastic as the cloud solutions they service. Ironically “offshoring,” the real dirty word, may actually diminish the ability to control and customize resources.

All of these tips, in one way or another, center on people rather than platforms. Cloud computing has done much more than shift the kind of technology we use -- it has fundamentally altered the role of technology in companies. Maximizing your investment in cloud technologies, therefore, despite all their complexities, really rests on one thing -- making the technology work for people, and not vice versa. As Tron would say, fight for the users.

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