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For most businesses, there are two common drivers toward cloud computing. One is that cloud providers offer hosting at a lower cost than companies would incur if they bought their own equipment and software. These savings come from better economies of scale and better resource utilization. And while most of the cloud's success to date stems from this driver, a second reason businesses move to the cloud is for productivity gains.
Businesses spend more on technology because it makes workers more productive. Cloud productivity gains justify new spending and radically raise cloud revenues and adoption rates. However, the cloud itself can't make companies work better. Applications and data -- not hosting technologies -- empower workers. Any improvement in sales or productivity comes when cloud features intersect with worker behavior -- and that occurs, especially, within mobile environments.
Mobile workers take company information and computing power with them as they leave their offices -- assuming they have a traditional office at all. The fact that these workers don't operate in a fixed location has a potentially profound effect on networking. And the fact that they view their mobile devices as a partner in performing their daily tasks has an even greater effect on IT and applications.
Mobile workers are different from desk-bound workers for a number of reasons:
- Mobile workers routinely do their jobs outside the office sites where companies extend their networking and IT support. As a result, offering this support to mobile workers is a challenge.
- Mobile devices are typically much smaller than laptops or desktops, and their limited display capabilities often make it difficult to use applications designed for desktops.
- Mobile workers are typically doing their job, whereas desk-bound workers are likely planning for their job. When organizations deliver application support as the worker is actually doing something, that support has to be more tightly integrated with the activity itself -- or it's not useful.
- Because mobile users exercise their applications only when they're working, usage is intermittent and the applications are likely costly and inefficient if based on dedicated data center systems.
These differences make it almost impossible for a company to base mobile empowerment on legacy applications. But if office-bound workers still use those legacy apps, abandoning them can be expensive and disruptive. The cloud can solve that problem.
Where cloud and mobility collide
To create mobile cloud-based applications, organizations should combine a new mobile device-friendly front-end process with a back-end element that interfaces mobile users with legacy applications and databases. Because these new applications run in the cloud, organizations can host them close to their workers, even across different geographies. This reduces the quality-of-experience problems that long-tailed connections back to the data center create. Organizations can also design these front-end and back-end structures to support a community of mobile devices and the exploding BYOD trend.
A combined cloud and mobility model also supports the personal agent -- something that's become increasingly important to the consumer mobile experience. A personal agent, such as Apple's Siri, Google's Now or Microsoft's Cortana, forms a partnership with the mobile user and provides information from a set of resources. A good mobile productivity app has a back-end personal agent that serves as a way station for mobile workers and applications and databases that are too expensive to change quickly.
In this agent-based model, mobile workers use their devices to contact a cloud-hosted front-end component that puts the device-specific formats into a common structure. Then, this structure is dispatched to the agent, where company data is accessed, formatted and returned to the device. The front-end element formats this returned data to reflect the specific needs of the device -- whether it's Apple or Android, tablet or phone, or an app or browser.
Mobile-driven cloud adoption almost always spreads beyond the mobile user. Few workers operate outside the office at all times, and, when in the office, mobile workers use traditional computers to access legacy apps. Most likely, the value of the personal agent will encourage workers to use a laptop or desktop to contact their mobile front end and agent -- and this gradually moves more application functionality to the cloud.
Ten years ago, few would have predicted the extent to which personalized IT resources would affect workers. There are many IT pros who still don't see the typical worker as being mobile-empowered, but that view is shortsighted. The future workforce will be mobile-committed, expecting to use social communications and personal devices at work just as much as they do in their personal lives. And it's this mobile future that creates the real opportunity for cloud computing.
About the author:
Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corp., a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982.
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