The new year at Microsoft is going to be characterised by the autumn product launch, the largest in the company’s history. The potential of products and initiatives will be realised in 2013. Beyond that, the next version of MS Office will be released, a version tightly linked with the cloud, an area where Microsoft is making a major push.
Cloud computing is going to get even bigger in 2013, but the technology is not going to corner the market for infrastructure solutions. Total virtualisation is a long way off and it may not even be the right solution.
‘The strongest tendency is that we are going to see solutions – partly or entirely – put up in the cloud more than in the past. Customers often elect to establish a hybrid solution in which only part of an existing and costlier on-premise solution is moved out to the cloud. This opportunity has arisen only in the last few years and appeals to a lot of customers who can now gradually move their solutions up into the cloud and gain the advantages that come along with that paradigm as a matter of course’, says Ole Kjeldsen.
But the cloud makes sense especially for small, newly established enterprises. They start in the cloud and build the company’s infrastructure up there. Both because they can simultaneously reach a global market without major initial costs and because it allows the IT solution to grow with the business. Ole Kjeldsen:
‘The cloud will not replace everything. It will take over the IT areas where it makes sense, but it is hard to say whether that will be 30, 40, or 50 percent. What we can see is marked advantages for large, medium-size and small enterprises as well as all the private consumers.’
Gradual paradigm shift
But you have to understand as a consultant – and as a business – that the cloud is not an all or nothing proposition.
‘Yes, it is a paradigm shift, but one that is happening gradually. Over the medium-term, we can see there will still be a lot of on-premise solutions. Millions have been invested in them and they work pretty well. At the same time, they can be linked to cloud solutions and achieve added value,’ says Kjeldsen.
Quite often, a cloud solution does not make sense until the equipment has to be updated or the business is growing and the infrastructure cannot keep up. In that situation, you can look at whether expansion might pay off or whether everything should be moved to a cloud solution.
‘There is no doubt that the quality of what you can get in the cloud, in relation to the price you pay for it, is not only competitive, but actually incredibly cheap compared to running an infrastructure yourself.’
The cloud is the fulcrum of many other major trends that are driving the IT industry. Mobility is one of them, whether we are talking smartphones or tablets. ‘Mobile devices can do a lot offline, but the experience is enhanced when they are connected to a cloud or web solution. This is where the cloud becomes more important in relation to storage,’ says the Microsoft Director, Developer & Platform.
‘Big data is rising exponentially and driving more solutions out to the cloud because it is too expensive for companies to maintain storage themselves. All the while, more data is coming in and everything has to be stored and analysed. In purely economic terms, a cloud platform is the best way to do this.’
Social networking is huge in the IT business. We are supposed to be able to share everything, which is another reason more is being put in the cloud. Microsoft bases its actions on what people ask for. The other side of the coin is that what a lot of people have been asking for is not necessarily the best point of departure.
‘But that is the way usage of social networking is going. We can see that a lot of people are asking questions on Twitter, for example, instead of using a search engine. Is this more right or wrong than if the work were qualified some other way? This trend is found among younger users, selected industries and IT developers, who use this medium intensively.’
80 billion apps
Research and advisory services giant Gartner is forecasting that about 80 billion apps will be downloaded in 2013 – which puts apps among the top five IT trends for the year. We are looking for apps for every imaginable interaction. A lot of apps work offline, but a great many are also dependent on cloud services of one kind or another.
‘The coolest user experiences, where the magic happens, are when the interaction is connected to a cloud service and takes place with others on the net,’ says Kjeldsen.
Up to this point, a lot of apps have worked as monoliths that can only do one thing, like show the weather in Denmark or recipes. But more are starting to see the opportunities in platforms like Windows Phone, where an app can link several different scenarios so that relevant data from your contacts, for example in Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, are accessible in one place. The focus is on gathering together everything you interact with your contacts about, such as pictures, status updates, texts, phone, e-mail, etc., and not on whether you are inside a particular app like Facebook.
The advent of the touch screen set off an explosion in mobile devices. These days, touch screens are standard fare. One out of every four or five devices on the market includes a touch screen, and Ole Kjeldsen predicts that within two years, it will no longer be profitable to produce small and medium-size screens without touch, since software experiences are starting to be based on touch. Kjeldsen expands on the subject:
‘Consumers are getting used to touch on smartphones and in many cases, it is a good, intuitive way to interact with their data, because it is app-based. And because our apps are there and people are starting to see the values, PC makers are also starting to use touch screens.’
You can talk to Xbox and a few Samsung TVs, but the technology is not optimal in a room where people are talking to each other. According to Kjeldsen, touch is going to spread more rapidly because the technology is more intuitive. And touch screens are affordable.
‘I bought my 21-inch touch screen, which I use in the kitchen to find recipes, two years ago for less than 200 euros. So, touch screens are here and available at reasonable prices.’
Consultants should think ROI
Price is also an important consideration when consultants are working with IT projects. You have to keep ROI – Return on Investment – at the forefront of your mind, and consultants, as always, have to keep both feet firmly on the ground. Trends like the cloud, for instance, are not the answer to everything.
’But the cloud is the solution to quite a lot of things and there is a clear ROI for all the projects we have run in recent years,’ says Kjeldsen.
The same applies to apps. They are not the answer to everything either. So, IT consultants have to always have their antennae up and be aware of the opportunities, but also exploit the fact that it is in the linking of various trends like the cloud, touch and social networking that actual value is created. Ole Kjeldsen:
’You should not develop apps just because apps are the new black. As a consultant, you must be able to foresee and exploit opportunities for synergy across these megatrends.’