I’ve found myself having some conversations about Cloud Computing recently. One with some work colleagues, and one with a student friend who is studying the subject.

I will be clear right from the start and say that I am not sold on the cloud. The idea of more closely aligned, connected and accessible technology services undoubtedly makes sense. The idea of organisations containing other organisations and having suppliers, partners and other dependencies closely connected through technology, also makes sense.

But Cloud Computing always seems based on the premise of organisations adopting generic solutions that already exist somewhere. It seems much less about building something new, innovative and unique and taking control of it. That might be fine for certain applications that genuinely are generic – spreadsheets, document editing, email and the like. But what about our key business systems?

This, I would argue exposes the two fundamental and competing forces which underpin IT, namely:

1. The desire to do new, novel and unique things – which means innovation and difference. Obviously we all hope that these can deliver ‘competitive advantage’ and distinctiveness.

Versus

2. The desire to adopt ‘best practices’ or ‘industry standard’ ways of doing things.

So, if we do new things and have innovation, we might end up with a labyrinthine, complex, or even somewhat ramshackle environment but perhaps it works. On the other hand, if we adopt the standard, ‘tried and tested’, ‘best of breed’ ways of doing things, we run the risk of simply becoming a clone of our competitors. And worst still, dull into the bargain. By adopting the ‘best’ (a subjective idea anyway), people in the organisation might actually find it less and less easy to innovate and less and less easy to change as we are constrained by the generic Cloud services we have bought into. Ironic considering we are led to believe we are living in an era of constant change.

Like the Project Triangle of Time-Quality-Cost, the above conflict of ‘different’ and ‘unique’ versus ‘standard’ and ‘best’ isn’t a ‘problem’ to be solved. It is an inevitability to accepted, and rightly so. We should be wary of anyone who thinks ‘they’ve cracked it’. Technology provides almost endless possibilities but it also runs the risk of creating unintentional barriers even prisons, if we are led by the technology rather than influencing and controlling it.

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