In every technology publication I open, every business symposium I attend, every CIO roundtable I facilitate, we hear about the next wave of change branded “cloud”, says Rudie Raath, chief technologist and country manager: Presales, Cloud & Strategic Pursuit, HP Enterprise Group, South Africa.
CIOs are warned that this wave is building up like a tsunami and will change the information technology landscape as we know it today, similar to the introduction of the computer accessory called “mouse” in the late 80s.

The mouse allowed us to click objects on the screen and windows were born. No more dull black terminal screens with a flashing cursor waiting for our next keystroke. This wave created a brand new style of IT.
Cloud concepts certainly make for a very good debate and challenge most of our paradigms in business today.

Cloud technologies are magnified with the introduction of mobile application and smartphones demanding this new style of IT. Our traditional paradigm limited us to a “dumb” browser just displaying information, to mobile applications that augment our reality and take a 2D flat drawing on a piece of paper and bring it to life through the lens of the smartphone camera.

Touch technology became the catalyst of adoption into this blurred world of what is real and what is not, how we consume information and how we share it. The mobile devices today are selected based on their ability to run these types of applications and ability to connect its user to the rest of the world, with the added benefit of making and receiving traditional telephone calls.

In the year 2020 analysts predict that we will see more than 22-billion devices connected to the Internet versus the 7,8-billion we see today. That is almost three times the increase in seven years.
This growth is only possible if the technology supporting this mobile application explosion rethinks the way we do business now, because the technology that got us here today will certainly not get us there tomorrow.

This future drives us to move from a server orientated environment to a services orientated environment, where we manage service levels and broker the services on a continuous basis.

The role of the CIO is changing
The new role will be one where the CIO becomes that broker of services both internally and externally. This CIO will be the custodian of the strategy and the IT department the executer, where a balance will be struck between retaining some traditional IT services, building an internal private cloud, consuming a managed virtual private cloud and public cloud services.

With this new style of hybrid delivery we are also facing brand new challenges and paradigms that can have a major impact on the organisations growth and competitive advantage.

Assets of the future are no longer the technology or physical assets, it is the way information is mined, shared and consumed. We live in a connected world where everything around us has some relation to each other and the data sources are no longer within organisational boundaries.

Don’t get caught out
Although we have many success stories and the mobile application world explosion compels us to understand and adopt this new style of IT, we do have some critical areas that are sometimes swept under the rug and ignored as “it should not be a problem”.

These are:
* Terms and conditions;
* Customisation requirements and testing;
* Customer data handling and platform design; and
* Regulatory compliance and liability.

Consumers of cloud are so quick to click the little “I agree” check box just to move onto the next screen, but they tend not to understand the liabilities they accept. The terms and conditions may have severe impacts on the business financially and crippling effects on operations.

Depending on the services that are hosted, you need to make every effort to understand the terms and conditions or find a provider that you can negotiate with. Here are the top most common areas you should consider:
* Uptime commitments;
* Data backup policy and restore windows, and its associated costs – some providers charge enormous fees to restore data;
* Data theft liability;
* What is included and excluded from your subscription fee – make sure that this is clearly defined;
* Use of your personal information; and
* Migration costs – how you will migrate onto their platform and what start-up costs are involved.

Moving towards the dark side
Many technology manufacturers and cloud providers build services based on highly customisable platforms with bundled consulting packages. This service is pushed hard to upsell the value, but has a very dark side to it – Locked In! The word customisation is synonymous with high costs and limited movement options.

The platform choice obviously plays a major role in any customisation that might be required. In some cases it is unavoidable to customise the platform or services to fit the business, but this must be kept to the minimum to ensure that you can harness the benefits that future cloud innovation will bring.

A very critical consideration is the migration of data on and off platforms. The easy answer is that migration costs are included in the contract, but what is not covered is the architectural intellectual property of the cloud providers hosting infrastructure in relation to your data and application integration.

This might make it almost impossible to move if the reference architectures behind your data and applications are not available to the next cloud provider.

Can you force your cloud provider to share that information with a possible new cloud provider? Yes you can, but this will not be an easy journey if the current cloud provider delays the matter – even if this is part of the contract.

Compliance is key
Regulatory compliance is a topic most of us are aware of but spend little time understanding in some cases. The now almost adopted POPI act will have major impacts on the direct marketing organisations and how customer information is gained and used. The act moves from an OPT-out to an OPT-in principal which stops direct marketing customer database sales locally.

Should you consider providing cloud services in South Africa, a massive investment is required – not only in consulting around compliant infrastructure and operations, but also the monitoring and reporting of your compliance to your customers.

Regulatory compliance and local acts can also have a major impact on selecting the correct cloud provider should you host outside South Africa in a country where the local legislation allows the government to lockdown the boarder due to security threats or war which might lead to you being disconnect from your data and services.

Be positive about the cloud
It is very easy to get demotivated, negative and somewhat close-minded when considering this “dark side of cloud”, but the reality is that the world is changing, and cloud technologies, mobile application and virtual reality are here to stay. The question is, how do you embark on this journey and stay competitive? The simple answer – choose the correct partner to walk this journey with you and share the risks.