Flexibility in the Cloud… What Does it Really Mean?

Anytime a vendor speaks of their cloud solution as “flexible.” It usually stops with not much more than a blanket statement that is seldom challenged, “Our cloud solution is flexible,” says the vendor. The customer might think, “It should be flexible. It’s cloud-based.” When in reality, that concept of flexibility isn’t that well understood. So what does flexibility in this context really mean and how beneficial is it to the customer?

I believe flexibility as it relates to the cloud has five main components:

  1. Consumption flexibility – You’re not buying software licenses in the cloud world. Instead, you are paying for what you consume. If you have a need to staff additional agents for a marketing campaign, you pay for the use of the service/application, then quit paying once the campaign concludes.
  2. Platform flexibility – IT has long been forced into a space where marrying the needed software with the required hardware often didn’t fit with the skill set of the IT organization or the ability to support it. Cloud solutions remove this hardware-software compatibility and support issue. Instead, the application service is selected and the cloud provider worries about the hardware platform.
  3. Pricing flexibility – The ability to pay for application usage over time (and in line with your use as stated in item one) creates financial flexibility. No need to write the one-time, up-front, large check. Instead the costs are spread out over the life of use of the service.
  4. Business user flexibility – Not trying to offend the IT groups with this post, but oftentimes business users were held captive by IT. IT sourced the software and hardware that the company would buy. With the cloud, business users are much more involved in selecting the services that meet their needs. They then leave much of the underlying IT work to the cloud provider.
  5. Vendor selection flexibility – Switching solutions from one vendor to another is a big deal. Users have to be retrained, and in many cases, business processes need to be redefined. The cloud doesn’t eliminate the pain and cost of switching vendors, but it does increase your flexibility to do so. In the premises-based software world, once you buy a product, you’re pretty well locked in for years. It’s a challenge to get your money back or to justify tossing it out in favor of something else. In the cloud world, if business needs change, if new technology makes what you are using old and obsolete, or if the vendor’s promises were overstated, you have more flexibility to terminate the contract and go source a cloud service that better meets your needs. There will still be pain, but that switch is much more doable.

Flexibility is a significant driver in the rapid adoption of cloud-based services. The more you know about those flexibility promises, the better you’ll be at looking for them as you evaluate solutions and vendors.

Joe Staples – chief advocate for flexible solutions officer