My publisher relayed some questions to me today from B2B marketing online for a piece they’re doing on cloud computing, and I have included below my answers.
What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing comes in many different guises, and the range and choices can be bewildering, but in its purest form it simply makes available a full range of IT capabilities on a subscription or consumption basis to anyone anywhere, automatically and on-demand. That means a business can buy, develop and/or sell feature-rich, enterprise-class software applications within shared ‘public clouds’ using only a credit card and a web browser, and they pay for the user accounts, virtual servers, data storage and/or data transfers that they need for only as long as they need them. In short, it’s pay-as-you-go IT via the internet.
What benefits does it offer?
Cloud computing enables businesses to:
- reduce the time, capital expenditure and management costs associated with buying, running, supporting, updating and backing up IT systems
- scale IT systems up and down as business needs change
- access IT systems from anywhere
- collaborate better online
How does it relate to b2b marketing?
The cloud computing service models most relevant to B2B marketing are Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS).
SaaS providers offer sophisticated, online marketing tools and integrated business software applications that can do much more than anything you could do with an off-the-shelf software package that you install on your own PC or IT infrastructure. Moreover, you can make the software available to all the people who need it in minutes, often on a free trial basis, without going through a long procurement process or developing software inhouse. And if you are running a major online marketing campaign then you can do so without worrying about whether your IT systems can handle increasing internet traffic if you use SaaS.
PaaS systems provide you with online software development tools to build your own business applications in public clouds without concerning yourself with the hardware and operating systems that underpin the platforms. If you need to do something a bit more bespoke then PaaS gives you that flexibility, and if you plan to sell what you develop as an online service then PaaS providers usually provide an online market place so that other businesses can buy and use what you have developed.
How important is it going to be?
The Cloud Dividend, a report written by the Centre for Economics and Business Research for EMC and released in December 2010, says that the five biggest economies in the European Union could jointly save £645 billion over the next five years by switching some of their services to the cloud. But there’s more to cloud computing than cost savings for big organisations; when it comes to online B2B marketing and IT in general, cloud computing helps small businesses to compete online with larger enterprises at the same level. And with the rise of social networking, businesses need cutting edge software and a pervasive internet presence that is kept continually up-to-date, and you need customer relationship tools that are out there ‘in the cloud’ with the social networks.
There are risks involved in cloud computing. If you are considering putting any of your business-critical data or applications in a public cloud then you need to have confidence in the security and reliability of the systems provided because you, not your provider, will generally be liable for any data protection breaches, and your business will suffer if you cannot access your IT systems for a period of time. It is likely, however, that, unless you have a large IT department, your internal systems will be more of a risk to your business than a cloud-based service where security and reliability are of paramount concern to the provider.
But beware vendor lock-in: make sure that you can extract your most important and non-transient data in a usable form if you decide to switch to another public cloud or a ‘private cloud’.
Are there any notable marketing products/examples?
There is a wide range of marketing products available from cloud service providers. Two well-established SaaS CRM providers are NetSuite and Salesforce.com, and Microsoft has an online version of its Dynamics CRM, which is integrated into their Business Productivity Online Suite. And as for specialists in B2B marketing, a notable example is GXS with their Trading Grid product. For more examples of SaaS marketing products go to saas-showplace.com and cloudbook.net.