IT professionals and business owners can barely go a day without hearing about a new product claiming to leverage “the cloud” to help solve common problems. Unfortunately, the cloud computing industry is now eerily similar to the weight loss and financial industries, promising quick and easy solutions to difficult problems.
While there’s no arguing that many cloud platforms and software suites have had a positive impact on the way companies do business, many vendors are now using the term “cloud” whenever possible as a marketing talking point without backing it without any substance. That’s harmful to the whole industry, and I think we should stop. Heres’s why.
A Brief History of the Cloud
Before continuing it’s important to note that cloud technology is, at its core, a marketing buzzword defined as, “the practice of storing regularly used computer data on multiple servers that can be accessed through the Internet” Long story short, cloud computing has been around since the 1960s.
The first major adoption of cloud technologies as we know them today – software as a service (SaaS) platforms – was Salesforce.com when it launched in 1999. By providing a simple software package which was automatically maintained by the vendor, users benefited from quality software which could be scaled to fit their needs without IT professionals worrying about deployment logistics.
The cloud was pushed further into the mainstream with the development of Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2002. This innovation included a variety of web based services which allowed developers to build cloud applications on top of Amazon’s infrastructure. In 2009, cloud technology as we know it took its stride, causing companies such as Google and Microsoft to also begin offering Internet-based applications to meet the demands of consumers, who were increasingly using multiple devices in their daily routines.
A Clearer Definition of the Cloud
Despite a lack of a formal definition, most legitimate cloud services share the following common characteristics:
- User self-provisioning
- Pay-per-use billing
- A multi-tenant architecture
- A virtualized infrastructure
- Linear scalability
A Significant Example of Cloudwashing
One of the most prominent cloudwashers in the IT industry is Oracle. The enterprise vendor well known for their high-end computing solutions was a vocal critic of cloud technologies, but then switched stances in 2012. Rather than embracing the model of moving their applications to the web, Oracle instead began to offer “Oracle Infrastructure as a Service,” marketed as a cloud solution — when, really, it was nothing more than a way for companies to rent Oracle datacenter equipment and house it on-site.
Another example of cloudwashing is Microsoft’s “to the cloud” advertising campaign, which just showed what could be done when Windows 7 is connected to the Internet.
When selling any product, you need to ensure that you aren’t misrepresenting your offerings to your customers. In the IT industry, wording your marketing copy carefully is vital, since your customers likely view technology differently than you do. Similar to how scope creep is a common issue with custom projects, cloudwashing occurs when customers don’t fully understand what you are offering.
As a rule of thumb, you should avoid using “cloud” as a hyped up marketing term because it really doesn’t have much flair in modern technology. Instead you should focus on more tangible benefits of your product. For example, increased efficiency and lower costs are both valid points which show the actual benefits of using your products.
While realistic marketing copy might not sound as sexy, by focusing on tangible benefits of your products, you can easily build up the trust of your customers.
Under Promise and Over Deliver
Although web applications are commonly pitched as being a way to improve efficiency and cut costs, many larger companies have significant amounts of money invested in legacy systems. For cloud technology vendors, this is a ripe market which has remained untapped, but implementing solid solutions is far from simple.
As discussed in GigaOM the newest form of cloudwashing is the promise of making the transition from legacy systems to modern cloud platforms “seamless”. Sure, it sounds great, but realistically such efforts are difficult even with the most experienced teams. That’s a recipe for a quick sale and a painful project.
The lesson here is that while you can promise the world to your customers, being honest and transparent with the capabilities of your systems is crucial to the success of your company. Your customers might not be as tech savvy as you are, but that doesn’t make them stupid either. When they fail to see the performance improvements promised by your software, your customers will switch to the competition.
When selling any product you have a duty to ensure that your customers have a reasonable understanding of your product before they make a purchase. While you don’t need to spoon-feed the information to your customers, you can help them to make an informed purchase by avoiding buzzwords and jargon in your marketing materials. There’s a bright future for the cloud, but it’s much more complex than most clients know. By ensuring the customer has a realistic expectation of what your software offers, you improve the odds of having a satisfied repeat customer. Isn’t that better than a disapointed one-time client?