Insights & Ideas

Small Companies are the Real Cloud Innovators

The EuroCloud Association hosted an event last night to discuss “Innovation and Growth” in the United Kingdom. The event is one of many this week focused on debating the important contribution technology companies have in fuelling our economy today and in the future.

I was asked by the organizers to speak about my experiences of helping to grow Rosslyn Analytics, one of the first British cloud service providers when it was launched in 2007.

I thought you may want to read my speech because I address a number of questions that were discussed such as:

  • Is the UK business market ready for cloud solutions?
  • What are the opportunities for home-grown rather than imported innovation?
  • What can policy makers in government do to help foster cloud innovation and growth?
  • How is the UK cloud industry faring in the global race?

Please let me know your thoughts.

Lance

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It’s my pleasure to be asked to speak here today about the challenges and opportunities of marketing cloud computing.

First, I need to make a confession. I made a huge mistake. I didn't sign Rosslyn up to EuroCloud when the association was founded.

I believe we would have benefited from networking, the words of encouragement and insight including ways of working together to form partnerships. At times it felt we were the only cloud vendor. We were the little salmon going upstream against an extremely powerful current.

That said, I am not sure membership alone would have helped, to be honest. Many of the challenges we faced then I still see in the market today.

However, it is not the lack of awareness of cloud computing. A simple Google search for the term generates 189 million results!

The debate has moved on especially since SAP and the other big software vendors voiced their intention to invest in all things cloud. (Frankly, they are playing catch-up after years of saying the cloud isn’t a viable model. As we know, they were trying to slow down the sales adoption of cloud solutions so they could properly plan a defence before switching into offense mode.)

I believe the challenge we face in promoting the adoption of cloud comes from us – the people in the room. We need to speak a common language. If we don’t, then we will be working against ourselves and for our competitors that have larger sales and marketing budgets.

I speak to prospects and customers just about every day. What is emerging loud and clear is they are confused. They know about cloud computing and they know it’s important. It’s something they need to embrace.

What’s making them stop in the middle of the road is a lack of clarity:

  • What’s software as a service?
  • What’s platform as a service?
  • What’s infrastructure as a service?
  • The list goes on and on….

What do I tell them?

I tell them that every company has a different definition of technology and how it’s delivered to customers. My advice to them is “kick the wheel.” Try before you buy. Only then should you break out the wallet.

Of course, if we were all to agree on definitions, it wouldn’t result in thousands of customers knocking on our doors.

We need to do more than just talk. We need to act.

So I ask you all: How far would YOU go to promote cloud computing?

Would you stake your reputation on it?

Five years ago, I did just that.

Right after the Tories came into power, the new government sought to put political distance between them and the previous regime. Why would you, right?

It was a bright Friday morning and I was walking to a meeting with the now chief executive of The Taxpayers Alliance, Matt Elliott. If you don’t know the young team at the TPA, they want to help reduce our taxes by ensuring the government doesn’t buy £1,000 pound marble toilet seats. I had arranged to meet with Matt to discuss a marketing partnership.

Standing in his office, Matt apologised, saying that our introductory meeting would need to be re-arranged because HM Treasury had released the data from the COINS database, which holds a wealth of financial management data about what the government spends money on, with whom and at what price.

It was a database that Matt had predicted would be published and something his team of analysts would be analysing for weeks. The insight they found would then be used to educate the public about government spending and try and check wasteful spending.

I suggested that we could help him and his colleagues and that we could have the data ready on Monday.

Well, let’s just say I ran back to the office and immediately suggested to the two owners of the company, Charlie and Hugh, that we try and be the first to publish the information in a meaningful format.

Over the weekend, Hugh and his data experts processed more than 17 million rows of data…and I must say that there was a lot of not so good data in the released files.

Nevertheless, first thing on Monday morning, Matt had the data ready for his nit-picking. We then decided to release the data to the media so they could write stories on all the wasteful spending. It was an exciting time – and the work we did opened doors for us especially with the government.

Shortly afterwards, we started to have conversations with officials from central government bodies including the newly established Efficiency and Reform Group.

Apparently, there was a focus to change the way government procured goods and services from suppliers, with a particular focus on getting the public sector to buy from smaller companies.

At the end of 2010, we were invited to a meeting with HM Treasury because they wanted to see how we could help them centralise spending from across the central government departments.

The meeting was productive – or so we thought. Then nothing happened. It wasn’t until a few months passed that we learned the Efficiency Reform Group had decided to issue an RFI for a spend analysis system that would cost the government a lot of money and years to deploy. It really got us fired up. Why waste taxpayer money when there is a better, proven option?!

Then, in March 2011, we decided to challenge the government. We decided to do a public service and offer free spend analysis to HM Treasury so they could get on with reducing the deficit. We were confident that we could deliver because of the innate benefits of cloud computing – no set-up time.

We issued a press release, telling the government’s chief procurement officer, that we could accomplish in 30 days what would take them three years: Complete spend visibility.

Call us naïve but we were shocked when the government declined the offer.

Of course, some people said it was a publicity stunt while most of our clients congratulated us for taking a stand.

What we meant to do was demonstrate the business value of cloud computing and we were ready to stake our personal reputation on it.

This is what I mean by less talk, more action. If we are to promote cloud computing, we need to take bold action that demonstrates the benefits of our innovation. So, how far would YOU go to promote cloud computing?

This leads me to my next – and last - point.

I believe innovation in cloud computing will come from small companies.

The reason is really simple: We are the ones that are willing and able to take the business risks (at least in the short-term).

For some of us, this means being bought for your technology whilst the chosen few will grow and proper to be billion dollar companies. For others, it means trying and failing for the moment before succeeding – and we must not be afraid of failure.

I should be clear by what I mean by innovation - it’s the ideas that we create which are shown in the products our customers and partners buy from us and how we run our companies.

It also means developing clever sales and marketing strategies and operating models. We have to do things differently because we don’t have huge budgets.

The more we can learn and share with each other, the more benefits we will all win individually. This means working together to:

  • Make understanding cloud computing easy for our customers, prospects and partners
  • Demonstrate the business case and value of cloud computing at every opportunity
  • Support each other throughout the lifecycle of product and business innovation

So, I encourage you to think boldly and continue to creatively promote cloud computing as it is the future and I am willing to stake my reputation on it!

Thank you.

Our clients