Posted by: drmiw | February 19, 2009

Cloud computing commuters and the future of London

Last Sunday night I found myself watching The Victorians, a new BBC TV documentary series. The first episode described the sudden migration of London workers to the newly built suburbs and smog-free, garden-enhanced homes as British cities ballooned at the peak of Empire. Commuting to work was made possible in Victorian times by the first horse drawn buses, or omnibuses as they were then called.

Britain is in a very different position now; its Empire has vanished and it’s suffering the current global financial crisis more than most, with predicted job losses of one million. Within Britain, London’s small businesses are dealing worst with the recession and the banking crisis may last a decade.

So it seems there may be another migration of London workers away from the centre, but this time they won’t be commuting back by omnibus. With revenues down, London firms are laying off employees, which is the obvious thing to do, but perhaps they should be looking to cut other overheads, too, and keep more of their people so their businesses have a better chance of survival.

New startups will not find investment easy to find so they will, by necessity, keep costs down and avoid capital expenditure where possible. These new companies will naturally use pay-per-use, cloud computing technologies, and their staff will more often than not be contractors, working mostly from home. With their established competitors losing money and people, clever startups have a great opportunity to gain market share quickly.

As for established companies that were around in the boom years before the credit crunch, they will have to adapt or die, and that means mimicking the business models of startups, writing off old investments and keeping their best people, even as contractors.

Despite the inevitable upheaval, I think that London – thanks to its history, its pool of talent and the prevalance of the English language – will still remain a major centre for global commerce; but I may be letting sentiment cloud my predictions for London’s future. For Extrasys I coined the tagline ‘For Business Beyond Buildings‘, but when it comes to cities and countries, business, thanks to the Internet, is beyond bounds.

I can predict with more confidence that, although there will always be value in face-to-face meetings, there will be far less time, money and energy wasted on commuting in the decade to come. London’s workforce will comprise increasingly of virtual commuters, doing ever more complex business in the cloud. Whether London itself, or cities in general, will still be as important in the business world is another matter, and it may all depend on those cloud computing commuters.

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