Managing Disruptive Technologies in the Cloud

 
 
By Jane Griffin  |  Posted 2013-03-06
 
 
 

By Jane Griffin

Cloud computing is not new. Remote access to applications, platforms and infrastructure has been a staple of corporate information technology operations for at least three decades. However, today, the difference is in the scale and speed with which cloud computing can be implemented.

Operating in the cloud gives companies the option to quickly deploy on-demand platforms and analytical applications, and to blend external and internal data. The cloud provides both cost and logistical advantages.

Leveraging data in the cloud is especially advantageous for three critical activities that many companies find elemental to their business: analytics on big data; uniting and delivering to a global mobile workforce and customer base; and leveraging social data to sense and respond to the workforce, shareholders and customer demand.

On-demand advanced analytics using big data is crucial to driving effective business performance and using that insight to enhance competitiveness. Leveraging analytics in the cloud takes advantage of its scalability, elasticity and dynamic provisioning to perform advanced analytics on large, diverse data sets.

Social data is virtually indispensable to many businesses as a predictor of customer sentiment. Cloud computing can enhance social customer interaction and reaction by helping companies span the enterprise ecosystem to embrace stakeholders, business functions and interactions to affect the end-to-end value chain—without being tethered by time and place.

Many mobile solutions have transcended utility to reinforce business innovation. The boldest plays in mobility combine cloud, geospatial and social computing technologies. They help companies—and their workforces—tap into diverse data sources, services and customer relationships based on physical location and desired action.

Analytics and the Cloud

Analytics applications are effective tools for turning data into actionable information that can help drive gains to the bottom line. And with data velocity, volume and variety growing ever larger, it is critical to exploit this data in order to drive revenue.

However, deploying analytics often take months to implement, and analytics applications are expensive to buy and maintain. In addition, many companies lack analytics talent.

To effectively interpret the insight that analytics applications deliver, it takes what are called "data scientists": people with skill sets that span computer science, statistics and business analysis. They should also have good communication skills to interpret and present the results of analytics activities. For companies that don’t have the time or resources—or can’t afford to implement analytics—the cloud can be their best friend.

With cloud-based analytics, companies can move their analytics and hosting capabilities offsite and outsource the aggravation of maintaining the analytics applications to someone else: an analytics service provider. Outsourcing gives companies access to analytics capabilities that may be far beyond their ability—either financially or logistically—to implement on their own.

To be sure, this kind of outsourcing of data aggregation and analytics capabilities comes with its own set of costs. However, those costs are often more than offset by the benefits of sophisticated analytics delivered to decision-makers at the strategic or operational level. 

The ways companies can use analytics in the cloud vary, but options include the following: the integration of internal data with subscriptions to big data as a service, packaged analytical applications, analytics development platforms, and insights and visualization as a service. Of course, selection of analytics capabilities should be balanced with budgets, desired internal core competencies and the desired time to deliver the capabilities to the user base.

The first method—outsourcing the platform only—owes its popularity to cloud computing. Outsourcing foundational IT infrastructure capabilities is not a new thing. Companies looking to save money have outsourced their IT functionality for years. However, what makes using the cloud to outsource analytics so different from the outsourcing of the past is the flexibility and potential analytics the cloud brings to the table.

Instead of maintaining complex, quickly evolving and expensive analytics infrastructure on premises, many companies can now turn to cloud vendors—via either public or private clouds—to store and process massive volumes of data for them. Thus, these companies’ resources can be more efficiently allocated, and they can focus their energies on building analytical teams to engage in sophisticated analysis and collaborative decision making. The costs can shift from technology to human capital, or from building applications to analysis of data.

The second way to utilize the analytics in the cloud is to completely outsource analytics activities to a cloud vendor via subscription analytics services. This option is appropriate for a range of companies—from small to midsize businesses that can’t afford analytics infrastructure or the analysts themselves, to larger companies that want to outsource a specific analytics capability that might be beyond their current level of expertise or the capacity of their resources to deliver quickly.

For example, a large company might want to build an analytics center of expertise, but it might not have the resources or organizational talent to make the option cost-effective. The company can turn to subscription analytics to solve the problem.

With an analytics collaborator, the company could gain access to complex analytical methodologies and results on an as-needed basis, without having to invest in the resources to gain the capability in-house. They would be able to have access to the information they need, when they needed it, with more efficient cost control built in from the start.

Social Data and the Cloud

The disruptive phenomenon of social media lends itself to leveraging the cloud for competitive advantage. Over the past decade, social media applications data have mushroomed. Where once there were only blogs and a few teen-oriented applications, such as Friendster and MySpace, there are now virtually countless social media and concentrated blog sites where literally hundreds of millions of people interact and—more importantly—voice their opinions on innumerable issues.

However, the social media world—and the data it produces—is vast and varied. It is almost impossible to monitor all relevant social media sites and conduct other business, but that’s exactly what companies should consider to be able to fully understand their customers’ desires and aspirations. Again, the cloud provides an approach.

Vendors offer social media monitoring services—based in the cloud, with their own customized cloud communities—that help companies follow and engage in social media activities with their customers. Companies use the information they glean to analyze customer sentiment and turn that data into actionable insight to address customer needs, develop new products, and enhance and customize customer experiences.

With a social media monitoring service, companies can subscribe to services that help them monitor social media sites—such as Twitter, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Facebook and countless others. They can simply monitor the sentiments and make decisions based on their analysis, or they can actively engage customers in online cloud communities, as well as RSS-fueled sites like blogs and newsfeeds.

Using social monitoring, coupled with analytics, companies can make choices about which conversations actually require them to take action. This ability to ferret out and choose actionable targets for further action helps companies use their resources effectively and mitigate problems before they spread across the Web and become brand‑killing issues.

Mobile Solutions and the Cloud

Speaking of more effective use of resources, the final disruptive technology, mobility, has spawned an entirely new definition of two of the most basic resources: space and time. Offices are passé. Road warriors rule. In some instances, it’s not practical to do business from a desk, and it hasn’t been for many years.

One obstacle to doing business anywhere, anytime, with any customer is a centralized IT infrastructure housed within company walls and the concomitant need for all the company’s IT resources to be uniform and tied to that infrastructure in particular ways.

The increase in mobile computing challenges everything—connectivity, security, flexibility, applications and services on demand. Mobile computing requires agility. The time it takes to build and deploy large centralized IT staffs and infrastructure can make it difficult to keep pace with a mobile workforce and customer base.

The data generated by mobile devices and the applications delivered on mobile platforms represent an important shift that is driving analytics for the mobile worker. For example, social media use and mobile computing are creating vast amounts of data, collected at millions of points. If it takes months to incorporate this data into an existing data warehouse, or build an application to respond, the opportunity to capitalize on this data can be lost. 

Vis-à-vis customers, it’s critical to sense the location and mobile interaction of clients and deliver appropriate services or interactions. This activity can be driven by integrating and deploying analytical applications into a mobility strategy.

Again, the cloud comes in very handy. By collaborating with a cloud vendor, companies can outsource the cost and maintenance of multiple device access for their workers. They can provide their workers with a secure virtual desktop that presents a standardized interface and application set, no matter the device or location.

This ability fosters true mobility and worker autonomy, as well as virtual collaboration. Workers can be in practically any location, using virtually any approved device, and still be able to perform analytical activities, as well as other tasks that help them work smarter and interact with and deliver services to customers more efficiently.

These three disruptive technologies—advanced analytics, social data, and mobility—are expected to be the beginning of a wave of technological changes that are anticipated to change the way business is done over the next half decade and beyond. New technologies emerge on a daily basis. Many companies, no matter how large their IT budgets are may find it hard to ride the crest of that wave.

Instead, many of these companies are anticipated to turn to the cloud for help. They will be able to collaborate with cloud service vendors to design and deploy customized solutions to help them deliver analytics, social media, and mobility services to the enterprise. The cloud, via its flexibility and ability to handle the ever-increasing volume of big data and analytics capabilities, can help make the delivery of these services cost effective and efficient. Companies that leverage the cloud can realize these benefits. Those that don’t? Well…

Jane Griffin is Americas Leader of Deloitte Analytics. With more than 30 years of IT experience, she focuses primarily on information management, business intelligence, data warehousing and master data management. She assists and advises her multi-industry clients in designing, developing and implementing technology and processes to efficiently leverage their information. Griffin (@janegriffin) can be reached at janegriffin@deloitte.com.