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Cloud – Enabling Rich User Experiences

October 10, 2009

Most successful brands create breakthrough ideas or innovations that are inspired by a deep understanding of consumers’ lives. Customers are no longer tolerating the rushed and mediocre service offerings. Instead, they are demanding satisfying and rich experiences. Companies that provide it will evoke emotional bonding with the brand and win their loyalty.

It’s fashionable today to talk of becoming “customer oriented.” Customer centricity is not just a slogan. It’s a pre-requisite for substantial profitable growth. Customer driven innovation isn’t just a strategy. It is a rigorous process and helps companies to understand who their customers are and what they care about. Customer centric thinking focuses on developing better ways of communicating value propositions and delivering complete, satisfying experiences to customers. It takes more than good intentions or grand visions to innovate in a customer-centric way. With the emergence of information rich societies and wide range of options for interactivity, customers are demanding more than ever before. It is going to be more challenging to keep your customers engaged with your brand unless you put them into your innovation process.

Padmasree Warrior, Cisco CTO, wrote on her blog:

Much of the discussion regarding apps today focuses on the debate between pure cloud (SaaS) delivery vs. the traditional on-premise approach to apps. Our view is that we need to move beyond this conversation and focus on the user experience. Here’s what we mean by that: As users we all want an experience that’s consistent and seamless, with the ability to stay connected and have instant access to the services and functionality we need, regardless of our location or what device we happen to be using. To deliver that seamless experience we’re going to need a combination of different types of applications—some that are on-premise and others that are on-demand.

Yes, we have been spending too much time debating on SaaS vs on-premise hosting of our applications. Instead, our focus should have been on creating rich and memorable user experiences. A disciplined process of Customer innovation will turn customer wishes into an enduring competitive edge – and a growing marketing cap. How do we enable this? How flexible and agile our systems and processes are to drive this level of interactivity with our customers. Limitations and rigidity in our systems and services are being pushed onto customers as “best practices” and cost of customization of these “rigid” systems far exceeds the value it offers. So, we need a radical shift in our thinking. We need to bring customer into the innovation process. This is only possible by shifting our conversation from systems view to customer view.

However, to fulfill this ambitious goal, we need agile, stable, and scalable service delivery platform. In spite of the all trends and developments in the technology, like SOA and Web 2.0 serving, we are still mired with IT infrastructure complexities and deeply fire-walled applications. So, the next frontier of innovation will require the customer focused, lean and optimized, utility based, and demand driven (CLOUD) computing infrastructure.

Though some argue that Cloud is the new business model or outsourced IT model, my view is that it is both an architectural paradigm shift and an economic model enabling optimal pricing and rapid innovation of new services without a huge capital outlays. Cloud is an architectural paradigm shift because we need to think differently the way we build, deploy and manage services in the Cloud. With the Cloud, we can focus on innovating to fulfill this new user centric view instead of spending all our time and resources to keep the lights on. Current applications were designed with different assumptions. Designers and developers glued their applications tightly to an operating environment and network. Hard-wired whole bunch of localized configurations into their applications. They fused-in specialized ACLs into network switches. Built rings of firewalls and VLANs of hell around their applications. May holes were punched and many controls were enforced around these applications. Moving these applications into Cloud is a huge undertaking.

Last 3 years, I have studied number of applications including massively complex Supply Chain Management processes to stateless web serving applications. Moving them into Cloud involves either complete re-write or re-engineering of data extractions, transformation, and loading in addition to re-wiring their business processes. Many of these applications assumed local optimizations, caching, connection pooling. It is even shockingly surprising that many application secrets were buried and firewalled on those servers. Moving them off the localized fire-walled environments to Cloud needs architectural re-thinking.

Though many enterprises are curious to move to the Cloud, my view is that they are not ready to embrace Cloud unless they look at their architecture and infrastructure more holistically. Virtualization is necessary but not sufficient. Extreme automation is the key. Today 76% of the production outages are caused by errors in configuration or change management. So, Continuation Integration combined with an automated deployment should be integrated into the services. Cloud is a promise. Service is the fulfillment. End-to-End Service is what it matters to consumers/customers.

With that said, majority of Cloud (Public Cloud) adoptions will be driven by emerging companies, services, and consumer facing web companies. Meanwhile, enterprises will start to adopt the private cloud model for their enterprise applications. That will give them fairly good opportunity to look at their applications, networking, security, and integration infrastructure more holistically. Once these applications are rewired into services with infrastructure 2.0 thinking, then they can burst their capacity needs into the public clouds. I see this as a multi-year journey.

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