Amongst the many emerging technology trends of 2011, cloud computing has increasingly been mentioned in mainstream media. While not being a completely new technical paradigm, cloud computing has become strategically relevant to companies that span numerous industries. The term cloud computing, in my opinion, is a vague and misleading term. Historically “cloud” refers to the pictorial icon that network engineers use when representing “the internet”. When drawing any type of network architecture that involved the internet, a fluffy cloud was used to represent the ever increasing plethora of networks that make up the Internet.
I don’t like the use of cloud because it betrays the real value that businesses can realize by embracing this technical paradigm. Clouds are nebulous, immaterial and unstable things. The services that are now available for companies within the manufacturing industry are the complete opposite of those traits. Rather than using the term cloud computing, I prefer to use the term adaptive computing. Understanding this new paradigm can provide cost saving and growth opportunities for companies within the manufacturing sector. There is a real potential for manufacturers to leverage adaptive computing to provide them with flexibility in the way they procure and operate technology.
The best way to understand adaptive computing is to look at a real world example. In working with a 90 employee manufacturing client on the strategic use of IT, there emerged a need to implement a single email system across a number of plant locations. The traditional approach would be to deploy an internal solution like so many companies have done before. This would require an internal server, licensing of software for the server and for desktop computers. Added expenses for backups in the event of some disaster were also factored in. There was also the labour component to set everything up, test and finally deploy.
Now let’s examine an adaptive computing implementation. Companies like Microsoft and Google, for example, provide “cloud” based offerings for email. In the adaptive model, the servers, licensed software, backup infrastructure and labour all reside “in the cloud”, that is to say, it is being managed by another company for you. A simple monthly fee is paid on a per user basis. This manufacturing client had different types of employees.
There were employees who worked on the plant floor and only needed occasional access to email. There were employees who worked within offices carrying out administrative functions, and they had a higher need for continuous access to email. There was a small sales force that was out on the road and they had a need for mobile email. The adaptive model allowed for flexible licensing of services that provided email that was adaptive to the type of end user. Employees that worked on the floor accessed a special web –based email from kiosks, while the mobile sales force
was able to easily and securely access email from a variety of mobile devices.
From the above example, you can see the first reason why adaptive computing is an apt term – the technical benefits can adapt to best fit your organization’s needs. In developing strategic plans with manufacturers, it is important that the business needs drive the technical decisions. Adaptive computing allows for easy provisioning of services to best suit the various stakeholder needs within your organization.
This adaptive quality, however, goes beyond the technical aspect of the solution. The cost of the service is transformed from a capital expense to an operating expense. Rather than needing to invest $25,000 to $30,000 upfront for a solution, this manufacturer was able to turn the cost into a $1000 / month operating expense. This was achievable because the service was adapted to best fit the working needs of employees. Plant floor employees who required less access to email, and were given a slimmed down web version, paid substantially less for the monthly service.
Added Benefits of Adaptive Computing
Our example focused on email provisioning for one manufacturing organization. Adaptive computing, however, spans a wide array of IT services that organization can utilize, such as storage needs, backup, CRM, collaboration and security offerings. During the recent recession, adaptive computing service providers saw an increased need from businesses trying to improve their bottom line. This drove many technology industry players to strengthen their offering, which has been a huge benefit to companies both large and small.
The manufacturing sector has looked for ways to reduce costs and invest in technology that would give them a competitive advantage. Adaptive computing allows manufacturers to leverage best-in-class solutions, while not diverting your attention from your core business. This model of utilizing IT services is often a good fit for manufacturers because it can be scaled up or down depending on needs of the organization, it can be deployed without the need for additional IT headcount and it ensures that you are leveraging the latest technology without having to make large
capital investments every few years.
Pitfalls and Considerations
While adaptive computing offers many tactical and strategic advantages, there are a number of considerations that organizations need to be aware
of in order to mitigate risk and ensure success.
- Location of Data: When your organization decides to leverage an adaptive computing service, your data will now reside outside of your organization. You will need to consider any potential restrictions that might exist for your organization. Often, manufacturers may have agreements with customers that stipulate that their data needs to reside in the country of origin. Be sure you understand where your data will reside before adopting an adaptive solution.
- Security: Completing a thorough due diligence is of critical importance. Often service providers will provide security that far exceeds what an organization can do itself, but in some cases, security measures may be lacking. Selecting an adaptive computing solution that lacks best in-class security measures will leave your organization open to risk and liability.
- Exit Strategy: It is important to ensure that you have an exit strategy in the event that you want to move to another provider or potentially move the service back into your own organization. Avoid adaptive computing services that lock you into proprietary solutions that don’t easily allow you to reclaim your data.
Your Next Steps
If you are considering a move to adaptive computing, there are three key steps your organization can take to effectively plan for the initiative.
- Inventory all your IT systems and upcoming initiatives so that you can identify potential targets that could be migrated to an adaptive computing model
- Start with something that is less critical so you can gain some experience in understanding this new computing paradigm
- Do your due diligence and check reference organizations to better understand what their experience was
- Understand your current technology environment to ensure that there are no potential barriers to leveraging adaptive services such as insufficient internet bandwidth, lack of connectivity redundancy or other system dependencies.
In following those simple guidelines, you can ensure you mitigate risk, while potentially unlocking an enormous amount of value for your organization.