Cloud Computing: Retailers Have Mixed Emotions That New Processes Can Diffuse
As most of you know, we recently published our first annual benchmark on cloud computing in retail. It is available on our site, both in long form and as an eBook. I have to say, this was one of those most interesting surveys I’ve ever parsed as an analyst. The data was totally unexpected.
Brian and I have each written previews of the report. Brian explained the surprising rationale behind moving to the Cloud. I wrote about the IT department’s desire/hope that it would be the biggest beneficiary of cloud computing technologies. That was the good news.
There is some challenging news floating in the data as well. Some are brought out in the report, while I’ll focus on another here.
My personal concerns around the frequent updates associated with cloud computing is that they may not be well-communicated to the user community. As users of cloud computing services ourselves, more than one morning has found me disconcerted to discover a commonly used function in our survey tool has completely changed, forcing me to change my analysis process, and decimating my productivity for weeks, until I squared away a new process to overcome it. Our respondents seem to have a potpourri of similar concerns (see Figure).
All the fears I’ve had about cloud computing are made manifest in this chart, from tepid approval of vendor communication to meeting the promise of reducing the IT workforce to perhaps the most shocking: 50% of respondents believe that in their rush to the cloud, vendors have left out features and capabilities they had in their previous on-premises applications. And yet, three-quarters believe that cloud computing apps provide more features than they need!
So what’s my take on this? Mostly, I see it as a problem in communication and preparation on the part of both IT and the Line of Business. Throw in a dash of “but this is how we’ve always done it, and we don’t want to change” and you’ve got risk of perennial problems.
We lull ourselves into the belief that the smaller, more frequent updates to cloud computing apps will mitigate the need for communication and training. This, however, is untrue. I mean, I’ve already whined about the cloud computing apps we use at RSR. I can sort my way through it, partly because I’m a former IT person (and pretty good technically after all these years), and partly because I have partners who also grapple with the same changes. We communicate with each other and that expedites our return to productivity to some extent. But I think we often forget that the average tech users aren’t really interested in “figuring it out.” Quite simply, they expect change to be intuitive, simple to navigate, and that it won’t force too much change into their lives.
We didn’t dive into the subject of who might be the roadblock to success. Are the vendors communicating effectively to liaisons who are simply not communicating information to the appropriate parties? Is there a sandbox set up at the retailer, with time put aside to take a pre-implementation spin through new changes? Do retailers do something as simple as set up a bi-monthly meeting to review changes that came in the last release and what’s coming in the next release? Are users just expected to “figure it out on their own?”
One thing is clear: Cloud computing is here to stay. There’s a real imperative here to set up some best practices within the enterprise. The time to start planning for that is BEFORE your first cloud implementation. We talk in the report about Cloud Centers of Excellence (CCOEs), within which these processes are typically fleshed out. If your organization is too small or simple to have a full CCOE, it’s definitely not too small to set up meetings every two months to review how things are going and what’s coming next.
Nothing in life is effort-free, and cloud computing is no different. Having changed the nature of application delivery and upgrades implies a new kind of change management. Simpler perhaps, but equally necessary as “big upgrade” change management processes of days gone by.
The world has changed, but some things remain the same. Communication is imperative. Smart vendors will check in with their retail clients to make sure processes are managed, and smart retail managers will also make sure processes and communication continues to happen. Otherwise, we’ll have unhappy users and endless complaints. It’s time to change how we change!