Look to the "clouds" to satisfy your collaboratives' computer application needs

looking-to-cloudsCollaborative partnerships come and go.  Setting up and maintaining ICT (information and communication technologies) infrastructure to support each of those collaborations can bring on a serious headache.  Adopting a cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) approach can alleviate that headache.  It’s (adopting) what I’m doing and so far so good!

The concept

While not all the high-tech gurus are on the same page when it comes to explaining what cloud computing is, according to the respected Gartner research group, cloud computing is A style of computing where scalable and elastic IT-related capabilities are provided as a service to external customers using Internet technologies.  SaaS is a kind of Cloud computing.  SaaS is an application; owned, delivered and managed remotely.  SaaS application users pay on a subscription basis.  SaaS is almost always Cloud, but the Cloud encompasses much more than SaaS.

Is that clear?  Let’s bring our understanding down to earth a bit.  Basically, cloud computing and SaaS are about having computer servers and applications residing, not on your site, (rather) in the physical space of a 3rd party; a party who might be anywhere in the world.  Here’s how I picture the transition to Cloud computing:

What’s to like about the Cloud/SaaS approach for a short-term collaborative initiative?

  • Choice: You pick only the functionality that you want.  If you change your mind, or your needs change, you can simply switch to another SaaS provider.  And, if it’s a carbon-trading application you need, well it might be out there!
  • Kick the tires before you buy: Typically, you can try out the software/service on a limited time basis before you commit to buy.
  • Quick start: It takes little time to get up and running.
  • Scalability: Ability to quickly scale up and down to meet your organization’s requirements.
  • Cost: Pay as you go on a subscription basis for the processing power you need, when you need it!  Avoid purchasing assets for infrequent, intensive computing tasks.
  • Capacity: By handing over the technology piece to a SaaS provider, you free your time to focus on other, important components of the collaboration.
  • Accessibility: Many SaaS provide mobile (e.g., Blackberry) versions of their application.  Work anytime,  if you want.
  • Transferability: When your initiative ends, working with SaaS makes it easier to transfer that content to another organization (owner).  It’s what some partners/clients want.
  • Security: In the cloud, there is generally high investment in state-of-the-art security.
  • Upgrades: Upgrades in cloud computing happen behind the scenes, and are always current.

Note: Some of the SaaS applications that I currently use (and like!) are Gmail (e-mail), PBworks (online workspaces), FormSpring (forms, surveys), and GoToMeeting (web conferencing and online meetings).

What’s the downside with SaaS for a short-term collaborative?

  • You’ll have less control over the actual technology infrastructure.  Can you let go?
  • You’ll need to manage (i.e., be present) your SaaS vendor relationships; to ensure the applications work best for you and meet your needs.
  • Compliance issues e.g., will storing your private data offsite with a 3rd party (maybe in another country) be an issue for you?
  • Lack of standards it may be difficult to transfer data from one Cloud provider to another (e.g., if you switch vendors)

Question for you: is Cloud computing environmentally-friendly?

Now what?

Want to learn more? Listen to this (extended, technical) Gartner July 15 webinair The truth about cloud, SaaS and saving money now.  Read this (summary) NonProfit Technology Network article Crystal Ball: Cloud Computing and SaaS.

Successful collaboration is about creative exploration within a supportive framework.  Cloud computing and SaaS can assist, especially on shorter-term initiatives.  Why not try some SaaS on a (free) trial basis?  Subscribe if it looks like a fit.  Learn/adapt as you go.  Journey on into the Cloud!

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Photo credit: James Jordan

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