Jonathan Rosenberg, VP & CTO, Collaboration, Cisco
These days you cannot go more than 10 minutes without hearing the word ‘cloud’ in connection with any kind of IT technology and collaboration is no different. Collaboration SaaS services have been on the rise and 2016 is looking to be the real breakout year for offerings in this space. These range from conferencing solutions such as Cisco WebExwhich have been in the market for many years, to newer video services, such as Blue Jeans and WebEx CMR, to telephony solutions, such as 8x8 or Thinking phones. Larger players are entering these markets, along with consumer players like Google and Facebook who are bringing business versions of their consumer offerings to the table.This of course is introducing a choice for CIOs worldwide. As more services become available in the cloud –what deployment model should they follow –cloud, or prem?
"Moving fast and upgrading all of the time is a hallmark of modern consumer software, and that speed of innovation is critical for CIOs in the modern digital era"
To make this choice easier for CIOs, some vendors are following a route of offering a solution in both models. The typical mantra is cloud or prem your choice. Along with that is a promise of equivalent features in either the prem or the cloud deployment models, and typically some kind of easy way to move back and forth.
In some sense, this sounds like a really good thing. It makes the choice purely one of consumption model and licensing framework. As a CIO, I can either invest in the operations staff to run it on prem and then pay a one-time license fee for the software. Or, I can pay a recurring license cost and effectively outsource the operations to the vendor. Either way -the features, functionality and capabilities are identical.
But, is that really a good thing?
In fact – it is not.
When a service is available as both onprem or in the cloud with identical features, it means that the vendor is using the same exact underlying software for premise and cloud. As anyone will tell you, cloud technologies are actually quite different from premise. People building modern SaaS and cloud software build it completely differently than traditional premise software. When the SaaS offering is just prem stuff that’s deployed in a central data center, it loses out on the unique benefits that are afforded only when the software is written for cloud. In other words, offerings that are consumed identically between prem and cloud are clearly not built as cloud first. Cloud first matters, because it brings with it a set of capabilities that CIOs should be caring about.
What are those capabilities?
Cloud first means it comes with continuous improvement. Traditional premise software is upgraded in regular releases, often 6-12 months apart. Software written cloud first is engineered to be upgraded constantly, each time without impact to availability. Because of that, it moves fast, and is constantly improving. New features come faster. Security fixes come immediately. Quality improvements are constant. Moving fast and upgrading all of the time is a hallmark of modern consumer software, and that speed of innovation is critical for CIOs in the modern digital era.
Cloud first means it will have better quality. This is a direct consequence of continuous improvement but needs to be called out on its own. Cloud first software gives metrics to the vendor that helps to monitor the quality of product in the hands of end users. How fast is call setup? How many messages are being lost? These can be measured constantly, and when there are problems, the software can be improved, an update pushed, and the quality gets better. Without the ability to update and improve the software constantly, achieving continuous improvement in quality is not possible.
Cloud first means it will have better adoption. Ultimately, when you purchase a collaboration capability, what matters is whether your users are actually using it. Getting users to use it is much more than just sending an email that reminds them the tools are available. Doing this properly actually requires observing the usage patterns of the users, understanding where and why usage is not happening, and adjusting the software itself to compensate. Perhaps that button needs to be somewhere else? Perhaps a new entry point into the feature is needed. Perhaps an in-app tutorial is needed. With cloud first software, the vendor can actually monitor and track adoption and more important constantly improve and evolve the product itself to drive adoption. When combined with adoption services and other IT practices this can ensure you get value out of the product. The key point however is that true adoption only comes from constantly improving the product itself to make adoption part of what it is good at.
Finally, cloud first means that it will have a better user experience, for many of the same reasons. The vendor is monitoring the experience and engagement of the users, and then constantly improving it. The amount of time to move from one menu to the next menu can be monitored and constantly improved; the number of milliseconds to return search results can be monitored and constantly improved; the frequency a feature is invoked can be monitored and constantly improved. Metrics, monitoring, devOps and continuous delivery – all of which are the hallmark of cloud first software –are all required to do this.
Building software uniquely for cloud means that you can take advantage of capabilities that are uniquely cloud. Those, in turn, translate into direct benefits for customers –CIOs worldwide. The promise of identical features between premise and cloud is appealing for its operational flexibility, but the reality is that it leaves much of real value that the cloud has to offer unrealized.
And so –when you are shopping for collaboration services, be wary of vendors that promise identical capabilities in either cloud or premise consumption models. Instead, shop for technologies that are the best they can be in their respective deployment models. If you are going to opt for a cloud service, make sure it’s truly built for cloud.