Cloud madness: where is the voice of the customer?

by admin on October 15, 2009

in Cloud Computing/SaaS

While I was at Softworld I was advised about an upcoming European cloud computing trade association launch that will happen very soon. Beyond that I can say nothing as I was given details confidentially. Already we have BASDA attempting to form a Cloud SIG, then there is Intellect. And those two are just for the UK alone. I’m all for industry types coming together to put a message across in an area that for many is new. But do we really need THREE groupings? It’s worse.

BASDA Cloud SIG apparently recognizes the need to define standards but will it succeed? My answer is a flat No! BASDA has a long history of attempting to make standards work and failed. The last time I saw something of this kind was when CODA and Exchequer developed an XML machine-to-machine interface based on a BASDA definition. At the time I thought it was one of the best ideas BASDA had developed. What happened? It withered on the vine because individual players had no interest in providing what they saw as a competitive tool. Ridiculously stupid at the time and still so today. So what has changed? Nothing much. It’s about perceived competition. I know for instance that Salesforce.com gets uppity when NetSuite is mentioned as a competitor yet there is no reason why they should not play nicely together. The saas/on-demand/cloud market is large enough for many players to succeed. However, investor attitudes about market share ownership get in the way of sensible discussions.

It’s an indication of the immaturity of thinking that puts vendors first and customers second. In some senses I see this as a fall back default position with which the industry is comfortable and familiar. After all, a fair number of players come from the ‘old’ world of command and control software thinking. That is suicidal for the saas/on-demand/cloud market. Why? Intelligent analysts and commenters emphasize the As A SERVICE part of the Software AAS equation. Taken one small step further, that’s about collaboration. That’s the big ‘win’ for all SOC players when they get it right.

Some vendors are trying hard to work out what that means. The first principle appears to be openness – ergo the user of services like GetSatisfaction or customer led forums like XeroUsers.com. Those are nascent yet important USER driven initiatives.

The problem is that when vendors decide to pimp something, they usually mess it up. Concentrating on bits and bytes, tech and other altruistic stuff that no buyer cares about. They close ranks and become protectionist instead of standing alongside the customer. That was very obvious in my discussions with vendors at Softworld where the notion of developing standards is assumed t0 be something vendors manage and control. Wrong! There are a welter of issues the industry needs to address across dimensions with which everyone should be familiar. Security – swept aside but with detailed problems the industry has yet to address. Access control – a topic dear to my heart but one that often draws blank stares or accusations of ‘not getting it.’ Data ownership and management…who/what/where? And that’s just for starters.

I understand Intellect will be publishing a marketing white paper on the saas/on-demand/cloud (SOC) topic in the near future. I also understand it includes canned quotes from SOC customers and a checklist of things to ask about and look out for. All good you might think. But will it truly address customer needs? During Softworld, I met with one vendor where I said the notion of being able to delete entries via the API is bad news. Answer? ‘We have an audit trail. Customers want it.’ Really? Have those same customers been subject to HMRC audit? Marketing skims the surface but the devil as always is in the detail.

2010 will see SOC grow exponentially. Deals are in place and customers will come on board. All good stuff. Vendors are crazily busy trying to develop code and be prepared for the expected ramp up. Again, all good. But…SOC has set itself up to be held to a certain set of standards that today don’t exist. Vendor trade organizations cannot be trusted because…they’re vendor trade organizations. There has to be a different way that matches customer needs. That’s why I am recommending that industry players look to independent bodies like ICAEW IT Faculty to act as honest broker in the preparation and agreement of standards. ICAEW IT Faculty will need to position itself differently from today and develop ways of brokering agreement that currently don’t exist. That’s not hard once you understand the issues. Going this route instead of wasting marketing money on yet another vendor grouping is what will help buyers and vendors alike.

In the meantime, I will continue to ferret out customers who are working on this ‘stuff’ to gauge and assess their real world concerns.

Comments on this entry are closed.

David Terrar October 15, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I agree that 3 overlapping groups is not ideal, but it just happened that way. As you know I’m involved in 2 of them, and trying to liaise with the 3rd group. The key thing is to try and make sure they work together, producing complimentary rather than competing initiatives and don’t tread on ach other’s toes. i don’t know how well it will work, but it does provide the opportunity for covering more ground. Cloud is a big topic that isn’t properly understood by the average business person or accountant in practice.

I completely concur with the idea of standards for inter-operability and APIs using XML or things like XBRL for reporting. The ICAEW can definitely play a role as the professional body and honest broker to facilitate common standards. As well as doing the evangelist thing, hopefully t these 3 groups can try and make things ike that happen.

Tim Cole October 20, 2009 at 1:37 am

On the point about Standards, the world of logic and reason is often skewed by reality. By this I mean that it is hard to argue against the simplicity which standards would deliver … or the failure of commercial vendors to adopt a standard. True enough, there are too many "standards" for the term to really make sense and the 1,000's of XML invoice standards around are a testiment to the folly of "best if I make my own" approaches. However, amidst the noise of techno-confusion, the BASDA standards (e.g. eBis XML) have survived, been increasingly used and are about to be re-engaged by a Special Interest Group to give them a future. From experience, more eBusiness traffic appears to use BASDA than other "new generation XML" standards and Hub-to-Hub interchange for invoices and orders has adopted BASDA. It may have been expected to wither, but it has survived and is actually helping real businesses to operate more effectively. … How many standards can say that?

Dennis Howlett October 20, 2009 at 1:41 am

@tim – I take your word for it but have no evidence that is the case re: BASDA. I never hear about it from accounting application vendors and as you know, the world has moved on significantly.

Tim Cole October 20, 2009 at 2:37 pm

I am not surprised you hear little from the application vendors as there remains a plethora of custom input/output formats within native applications. However, when companies look to connect, BASDA has been widely adopted as the integration language as it is accessable and pragmatic. We could make things alot simpler, but progress has been made and use is growing. We (yes, I too have developed standards!!) tend to be looking to cover all bases and resolve every minority requirement in specifications, when real business is actually straight forward and used to living with the occassional compromise.

William El Kaim October 20, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I do agree.

Cloud users should define their requirements and not be embarked in Consulting and cloud vendors organization. Really I do not care about their technical standard war, I just want interoperable cloud, standard SLA between suppliers, etc.

The gold spike is back, mainly in North America and users should have their part of it. But who wants to share gold?

We, users, need a proven organization to manage some key topics and standards around cloud (like Open Group or Oasis or OMG). They need to jump on the bandwagon and make those guys think "open".

By the way, do you know a cloud company in Europe? A cloud Journal in Europe? A cloud training or education cursus in Europe? An official support from the EU commission to cloud in Europe? I did not hear about them.

Poor us, EMEA users (you can also see my post on this subject here: http://blog.resilient-it.com/2009/10/milk-and-clo…

PS: I had issues when trying to join the Eurocloud forum, the web form is always telling me that a a field is missing! Poor us, again.

Phil Wainewright October 20, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Hi William
The points you make about visibility and support for cloud in Europe are exactly what EuroCloud has been formed to address.

Sorry to hear you had troubles with the EuroCloud form. I'm seeing other people posting successfully, so would be useful to have more info. Meanwhile I'll ask the website people to look at a more specific error message. Or just email me your details – eurocloud@pcxvs.com

Regards
Phil Wainewright
EuroCloud UK co-ordinator

William El Kaim October 20, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Thanks for your answer.

Looking at Eurocloud web site quickly I understood that it was mainly composed of consulting companies and cloud suppliers.
I did not read anything concerning EU commission lobbying, EU education (training for companies and in universities) and EU business domains/regulations requirements (Finance, retail, etc.).
That's why, I said, that we should concentrate on real business domain needs and provide answers to key constraints today.

I also sent an email to the french contact, so he should be able to help.

Dennis Howlett October 20, 2009 at 6:29 pm

@william – there are 2 types of standard: 1. business 2. technical. Whether something is open as in open source is not something users care about but interoperability is a whole different story. At the end of my post I suggest ICAEW acting as honest broker. I firmly believe that is one way to go that could prove fruitful. At least in the UK.

William El Kaim October 20, 2009 at 7:06 pm

@Dennis Please accept my apologies if the way I expressed my opinions let you think that I was against the initiative or the people launching it. It was not my intent to judge if people or organization are honest or not. My intent was to say that in Europe, we could leverage some of our strengths: clear and powerful cultural differences between countries, lots of open source developer forces, good universities and research and a common place to push our ideas and ask for some funding support (the EU commission).
I would appreciate if EUROCLOUD could consider to create different streams: technical standards, business related groups (Finance especially in UK should be interesting to set-up), and interoperability testbed.

Krupo October 23, 2009 at 9:34 am

Reminds me of my continued admiration for automated interfaces between SAP and "legacy" applications that specialize in certain sub-processes.

Of course, that's big huge ERP talk, not cloud talk so I won't wander down that path.

I have no doubt that some elegant (read: expensive) programming is needed to get those interfaces off the group, so standards would probably make it easier for smaller firms to enjoy the fancy automated links that big huge firms take for granted…

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