A psihology of cloud

There is one thing which makes cloud offerings appealing in general: these are impersonal social transactions.

Now, let me clarify this a bit: when somebody buys an IT software solution Small shops custom solutionsthe usual way of doing this is by directly talking with the software development company (or a system integrator, somebody doing IT consulting.. etc). This means the buyer and the seller interact in a social manner (even though usually strictly professional ūüėČ ) and work their way through the finalization of the “project”. A simpler case is for out of the box products but there are seldom such things in the business solutions space.

Cloud changes this. Not by itself, but it can really take off once people on all sides start taking advantage of it.

Everybody says cloud solutions are ‘simple”, “easy”… and we quickly think about this as being “feature”-simple/easy. This is a bit true but a major incentive is the fact that the buyer can obtain its reward without any emotional involvement. He does not need to actually “talk” to some other person, he doesn’t need to explain itself to somebody. He simply clicks. This is where the lure of cloud is.

Of course, this does not mean the traditional way of selling software solutions will die. It’s exactly like when you’re going to the mall/supermarket vs. to your local corner shop. Both will coexist, each of them adapting to the market demands.Supermarket browsing

Now, if any of this is true, we will see vendors adapt to fit this consumer psychology. Maybe it’s not such a big surprise that Amazon is so successful in cloud now… isn’t it?

We need wholesalers and retailers for software solutions. Cloud providers are going to do this and software vendors will transform to meet their demand. But just as in the current physical goods economy, in cloud you’ll find some brands and a certain uniform quality while we will also have local shops with “limited series” products.

This will drive standardization, because you can’t have a supermarket unless you do have many similar products (comparable by some metrics understandable by the customer). And here lies a very big challenge, since in the business solutions area there are currently no pervasive standards, formal on informal. I believe the vendor struggle to be present in cloud with their business solutions (something which we will see more and more in the next year(s), together with the consumer behavior¬† will generate these standards.

Clearly interesting times…

Want to deliver ECM solutions in cloud?

While I’m no expert on the topic, I’ve spent a lot of my last years doing just that within our company – which is not a pure player in the space. Here are some ponderings which should be useful both for providers and for customers.The Cloud - from xkcd - http://xkcd.com/908/

If you’ve not been living under a rock for the last years, you probably noticed the hype called “cloud” (not to mention “big data”, let;’s just leave it to that for a moment). As many pointed out, “cloud” has many meanings and while some are new, a lot of work had already been done ¬†under different not so cool names like PaaS, SaaS (why not AaaS?), IaaS.. etc. Infinite elasticity, scalability and “always on” are subliminal promises vendors lure customers with. Some deliver this better than other. Some customers need it, some not. Well… it’s a free market after all.

Say you are a solution provider (integrator, services, whatever) and want to jump on this bandwagon. You call somebody in the company and say “let’s do this!”. If you’re thorough enough, you’ll make a business plan (at least). Please consider this:

1. You can’t just take on-premise software solutions and make them run in “cloud”.

Especially ECM stuff. If that solution is a good onw, it’s probably very complex. Complexity doesn’t play nice with reusability. Cloud is about reusing as much as possible so you can make economies of scale. If you don’t care about that (eg: you expect less than 20 customers) then consider the people administering it. They will be your staff? If so, do they need to learn a lot of specific characteristics for each of your customers? Hmm….

I’m sure all your enteprise customers will use the same software application, just configured differently. Aren’t they? You’ll educate them? Or you will be the next Force.com? Consider it. Of course, you can isolate them and basically have an individual instance with all the peculiar characteristics customized for each customer. I sure hope they will be paying you the big buck, because it will be fun to keep that updated in time.

Or you will take the enterprise solutions you have and scale them down to fit a more “general”/small business need. It might work. Remeber: keep it veeeery simple to use. Very. For example; Metadata? You should innovate here. Checkout/checkin? Find another way. Your 20+ action menu? Trim it down to 5. Can’t?

2. Infrastructure is not scalable to the infinity

Put a virtualization layer on top, it eases things up. But you thought of that already. Reality check #1: virtual stuff runs slower than barebone hardware. Reality check #2: top grade infrastructure is expensive. Of course you can try the Google approach and build a lot using commodity hw. But you need special management tools and procedures fo do it. And maybe even rethink your software solutions. Goto no. 1.

Some ECM solution components might not even be compatible with virtualization. Hehehe. Are they yours or do you purchase/oem/integrate from other vendors? What;s their plan?

3. Business model si a different beast

How do you sell it? With the same sales people? How do you incetivize them? I’m sure you are aware that selling cloud stuff brings a tiny-tiny fraction of the initial revenue vs. selling one-off licenses & implementation services. When does your salesperson get bonused? Will this work for them or they will continue to push for the classic sale even if you have cloud to offer?

On the good news side, if you sell in the ECM space you should have already been thinking ¬†about this for at least 1-2 years now… why? The days of multi-million solution sale are gone. The majority of customers are now planning for smaller initial costs and to have services and extensions spread over multiple years. With the ocassional exceptions, but if you’re counting on those, then you’re reading the wrong post.

What about licenses ? Your ECM solution will most likely sum up an impressiove number of third party licensing. Are those vendors providing a clear and adequate licensing model for the cloud? Do you change your user per GB stored? If so, you’re storage vendor is charging you based on the monthly reported usage? Eh?

4. Your internal processes and resources

Once you go live, you need to run it. If you have only a few customers, it’s probably not very much different than what you did until now. Especially if you already provided some sort of SaaS/PaaS before. But this is not the idea… “Cloud” should mean many more customers for you as it means more resources for your customers. Cheaper, for both. So, you will need to redesign internal processes (and tools) to be more effective. When you sell at 5 USD/user/month you need to take inspiration from Henry Ford. Considering you will still keep you current business model, beware how you mix people and resources around.

Support for an ECM solution is complicated. Will you take calls from all the end-users? Are your people capable of understanding this for all those many “cloud” customers you will hopefully have? Or they will just create frustration which will generate a lot of comments in the area of “why did we externalized this? it was much better when our (then thought lousy) IT handled it”. Remember, you’re changing a way of working, you’re not providing a solution to a greenfield area. What works for a telecom company providing commodity services and products will not apply in the ECM space.

The list can go on…

Is it all bad?

No way! Just look around. Although I called cloud “hype”, it passed that stage. Vendors are started to mature and many have realized the above items and are at avrious stages to address them.

This post is for you, our customers! Take care when choosing your cloud provider(s). I really do think you need one (the chances are you probably need cloud vs. you don’t). Do not evaluate in the same way Amazon with Box with EMC or with a specialized solution provider.They are different, at least for the reasons stated above. Work with them in understanding how did they solve the challenges, see their actual experiences and be cautious of “i know how to do it but we have no customers yet” offerings..

Give me the music

Not totally unrelated to content management, but I have an idea. I’m sometimes full of them, to the dismay of my colleagues.

As many usual working dudes out here, I spend about 2 hours in my car each day. And I happen to like music (doh!) and there is stuck me: “I like this song, I’d like to buy it”.

So here it is, my invention (a quick google on the topic revealed nothing similar):

Let’s build something which will allow regular persons to purchase songs they hear on the radio. Without knowing the ¬†artist or song title. Even without being capable to reproduce it in the shower. And, staying true to my ideas, this must be “one button easy”.

Let’s double the complexity. I’ll probably need 2 buttons: “Buy this!” and “I like this”.

How can it be done?

First of all, who are the involved players?

At this moment, I can think of: radio stations, radio producers. Coming in second: music rights regulators, car manufacturers (remember, I was in my car, and you can find me there 2 hours each day… listening to music).

So, it would be good to put these buttons on the radio.

Sure, one crazy (?) idea would be to creat an app for my mobile device to record provide the button and then do some magic to find out what the song is.

How can it find out: build a signature of a brief recording of the music and then compare it to an online exhaustive database. ¬†Nah…. For those of you who want this… try shazam, it’s really cool and it works.

Record the exact time and lookup in the playlist of “that” radio. This means i have to also select the radio I’m listening to. Not an easy task, I’ll probably not do it if it needs so much actions on my side.

So, the best way would be to have the button in the radio. The radio also knows the station I’m tuned in, the time (usually) and also has access to the RDS stream of the station, if any… to pick up any useful information (some deliver the song name by RDS).

So, let’s build inside the radio a GSM module to send the timestamp/radio station/any other thing to a cloud server (see…. see… I used the magic word). That server will know my account, will communicate with the radio station to find out the exact song details and will purchase or mark it as favorite, or put it in a shopping basket.

On my convenience I will login in the cloud and download my tune on the iPod/mp3player/computer/tivo/whatever. Simple, easy, micropurchase.

I can even think of bundles between mobile operators and radio/car manufacturers to charge that tune to my phone bill linked to the GSM card… so that would be even easier.

In the cloud, I can anonymize the data from many users an build a reccomandation system for other songs/items… the sky is the limit.

This is cool, let’s do it.

Where’s the money? The radio station can be paid a part of the song fee, helping it support the fees it pays for music to the regulators/guilds/autors. The car/radio manufacturer adds another feature to it’s product and thus differentiates from the competition, thus it has more sales and exclusive cusomers.

Speaking of this idea, we can implement it in Android and apply it on mobile phones with an FM radio. That solves quite a lot of challenges but limits the user base. But this user base is formed by youg people who love micropayments and are also more in touch with modern technology (like logging in the cloud). We just need to cooperation of radio stations.

Why am I coming open with this idea and not patent it myself? Because I’m sick and tired ot software patents. And I hope that by making this public I help discourage anyone to patent it. ¬†And since I’m going to build it myself, that will also help.

Do you wish to work together? If I can help and provide valuable work items, I’m all in. There are multiple possible variations on the above, like connection your phone to the radio by Bluetooh, instead of building the GSM inside the radio…

How is this related to content management? Well, is somehow an answer to “if all the obstacles to ECM adoption were to go away, what would you do with ECM?” and a followup to my idea of “One button for all I want“.