In the world of digital transformation silver linings abound

The true worth of storing information in the cloud hit home, personally, when my 2016 MacBook died last month. Just a couple of months after purchase, it began to behave oddly; shutting down unexpectedly or not waking up from sleep.

Some of you will probably be familiar with the various keyboard combinations (requiring a Twister-like dexterity) that reset either the memory module or the system management controller. It usually does the trick. Not for this problem though; it transpired the computer’s logic board, the piece that connects the computer’s various components, had failed.

In another time, this would be a heart-in-the-mouth moment. Had I backed up? What about all my documents, pictures, music? As the machine began to falter, I did make a half-hearted attempt to clone the drive, but it was more to save the hassle of reinstalling third-party applications than to protect against the loss of data.

You see, I don’t store a great deal on a computer; it’s in the cloud, mostly in Dropbox, or spread across various other cloud-based storage options. So, as this mini-crisis unfolded I adopted a Zen-like calm.

There was mild irritation at a new, £1,000-plus, computer failing in the first place – but it was still under warranty and, as long as Apple doesn’t discover that you have been using it in the bath, they’ll repair it (in about five days, if the part needs to be ordered in) and waive the cost (in this case, £500).

I was slightly more irritated at discovering later that the Apple ‘Genius’ (do they still call them that?) had described the condition of my MacBook as having “debris” on the top enclosure and “pits” and “light scratches” on the bottom. Strange, given that it had been in a protective cover since day one. Just three stars for Callum, then.

There is also a new irritation; as soon as I unplug the charger it switches off and the battery indicator is displaying the message: “Condition: replace now!” What’s going on Apple? After 30 years, is the romance waning?

But, back to the cloud. Yes, I had to spend a bit of time reinstalling applications and, because we had been waiting three months for broadband at home (that’s another story), resynching Dropbox over a 3G Wi-Fi dongle took on a comical aspect; at one point, as the application detailed the number of files still to be synched it switched from saying the time remaining was 29 hours to, “a long time”. But, eventually, all my ‘stuff’ – personal and work – was there.

Aside from when disaster strikes, the cloud provides a way of making life and work flow more effortlessly. From an individual work perspective, the way appointments can be synched over several devices is indicative of the overall transformative effect enabled by the cloud. And as a business (as publishers) we use a web-based app called Blinkplan, which lets you create a digital ‘flatplan’ of a magazine or newspaper supplement, like this one. As well as the ease with which a publication can be organised, it is a collaborative tool also; make a change and your colleagues see it in real-time wherever they are located.

Friction free access to data, the ability to collaborate in real-time, powerful applications that are always the latest version; the cloud is going mainstream in the workplace, or wherever you need information, apps and software as a service.

Scottish Enterprise provides training and support to high growth companies based in Scotland.

The big technology players like Microsoft and Adobe, who for decades built their business on selling CDs in shrink-wrapped boxes, have made bold and successful moves into subscription-based software as a service (SaaS). Now, across industry sectors, companies are seeing the merit in running their business on SaaS platforms and third-party hosting of their data.

According to the Cloud Industry Forum, cloud adoption remains high, with 78% of organisations using cloud services today – albeit this a slight dip from the 2015 figure, the proportion is predicted to increase to 85% within the next two years.

Of those organisations using the cloud, a survey by the Forum found that three quarters expected to increase their usage this year. More than three-quarters of the organisations that use iy have deployed two or more services and on average they store 29% of their data in the cloud.

The Forum’s research found that six in ten (63%) foresee a time when they will move their entire estates to the cloud, with the remainder intending to keep certain applications in-house. Webhosting (57%), email (56%), ecommerce (53%) and collaboration services (52%) are the applications most likely to be hosted in the cloud today. The biggest growth over the next few years will be in unified communications, which it said promises to deliver significant benefits for end users.

The flexibility of the delivery model (77%) stands as the most common reason given by cloud users for their initial adoptions. This is followed closely by scalability (76%) and 24/7 service dependence (74%). Over two in five (45%) say that enabling innovation is a business objective driving their continued investment in Cloud. Enhancing business continuity (37%) and improving customer service (31%) are the other objectives most likely to drive investment.

Around 64% have found that using cloud has saved their organisation time and 86% report that their organisation has experienced at least one intangible benefit of the cloud. Security concerns are a primary reason for not wanting to move specific applications to the cloud for two thirds of organisations.

Similarly, during the decision-making process for cloud migration, 75% were concerned about data security and 56% about data privacy. However, the clear majority (98%) of respondents have never experienced a breach of security when using a cloud service.

“The way in which forward-thinking organisations transact today has fundamentally changed, as businesses of all sizes have come to embrace digital technologies as a means to disrupt industries and secure competitive advantage,” said Nick Hilton, the Forum’s chief executive.

“The imperatives for change are many, but chief among them are the mounting demands of consumers and the increasingly blurred line between our personal and professional lives; customers, both internal and external, want to be able to access information in real time and staff expect the same functionality of their business applications as they experience in their private lives.”

Hilton said that their research suggested that the digital transformation of UK businesses is still “relatively immature and too many organisations are only just scratching the surface. While a high proportion of businesses have digital transformation in their sights, work is needed if they are to reach their digital potential.

“Cloud computing is the agent of this digital disruption, and it is clear from this research that there are significant benefits to be had by businesses that pursue both digital transformation and cloud strategies in tandem. This is not marketing hype; cloud computing and digital transformation go hand in hand. 85 per cent of businesses with a digital transformation plan have benefited from a tangible competitive advantage.

“Cloud services, which effectively offer unlimited and dynamic IT resources, form the foundation of digital transformation and can facilitate rapid business change. But it is also clear from our research that digital transformation strategies serve to directly enhance the effectiveness and benefits of cloud implementations in their own right.

“Flexible, on-demand, consumption-based cloud services and applications are removing the barriers to change, allowing businesses to react quickly to changing market conditions, move on new opportunities faster than their competitors – without having to invest heavily in IT infrastructure and skills. Cloud removes – or at least lessens – the risks.”

Hilton added: “It is worth stating that the move to cloud is, often by necessity, evolutionary, not revolutionary. We have seen that while the vast majority of organisations are using cloud to some extent, data is still more likely to be located on-premise than it is in the cloud.

“Encouragingly, there are strong indications that that will change in the not-too-distant future; three quarters of cloud users expect to increase their usage over the next year and over six in ten organisations can foresee a time when they will migrate everything to the cloud, representing a significant shift from this time last year.”

However, he added that there was a wide range of barriers – “be they perceived or otherwise” – that must be overcome for businesses to make the wholesale move to cloud. “Security is a persistent worry, as too are data privacy, data sovereignty and a lack of available internet bandwidth.

“At an organisational level, other more practical issues often need to be navigated; existing investments in legacy systems slow the pace of adoption, SMEs in particular lack leadership internally, while one in five organisations are constrained by a lack of appropriate skills.

“Addressing these barriers must now be a priority. The Cloud Industry Forum calls upon UK business and technology leaders to consider how they support their staff and their businesses by ensuring access to the necessary training and skills development.

“43% of businesses are facing a very real challenge to their growth because of a lack of access to talent and this is also hampering the pace of cloud adoption which has clear and significant benefits to UK business and its global position.”

‘It’s only day two of the Internet’

How Scottish companies foresee the future of cloud services

Scotland can point to considerable success in cloud services. Just this month, iomart reported a 26% boost in pre-tax profits for the six months to 30 September.

Chief executive Angus Macsween commented: “The move to the cloud continues to be at

the centre of attention within IT departments. iomart continues to invest in the skills required to architect, migrate, manage, monitor, secure and scale public cloud, private cloud, hybrid IT and traditional IT, with a view to enabling organisations to transform, innovate, and scale their operations.”

He said that there was a “long-term and large market opportunity” in preparing and managing enterprises for transformation and deployment to cloud platforms. The information technology environment has become more complex with more choice and he sees a growing requirement for the skills associated with cloud adoption.

“Our ongoing challenge and opportunity is to navigate through these early days of the further evolution of cloud adoption to ensure we continue to develop the assets, skills and resources necessary to be successful in that space. As we have broadened the scope of our services to include professional services, we have begun to see the benefits of having the skill sets around consulting and managing cloud transformation.

“We are entering intomore strategic conversations with IT departments who are looking for ‘joined up thinking’ when it comes to looking at moving applications or services to the cloud. There is a growing trend to manage IT in a more fragmented way. Gone are the days when large organisations or departments would outsource their entire IT departments and magically believe that things would somehow be better.

“IT evolution now tends to be project by project, application by application, with a view to maximising value, not being locked into any one technology vendor, and being able to migrate services at will. This plays into the strengths we have established around agility and flexibility alongside the right expertise and infrastructure, with an ability to manage the mix of public and private cloud and hybrids of both effectively.

“This is a very long term market opportunity. We are only now starting to see back office workloads move to cloud environments and this is a trend that will continue for many years. It is, after all, only day two of the Internet.”

Other cloud services providers in Scotland include:

brightsolid: “Our values define us, our people and the way we do business. In our 2015 team satisfaction survey, 77% of respondents ‘strongly agreed’ that brightsolid has values and ethics that it lives by.”

DataVita: “A privately funded, new Scottish company, started by people who have a desire to innovate.  Our board team has over 30 years’ experience designing, selling and operating datacentres and cloud services to deliver IT transformation.”

Pulsant: “Our vision: To help create a world where people can develop to meet their aspirations without being restrained by the limits of their knowledge of technology, or ability to acquire the right technology, now, or in the future.”

Commsworld: “We understand the multiple options that are available and have a raft of experience in the delivery of network platforms that will fully support cloud access, 100% of the time, 24/7, 365 days a year.”

Aridhia: “Delivering AnalytiXagility, the self-service cloud-based data analysis platform built for biomedical research, precision medicine and healthcare communities.”