Confusing Value Propositions: Cloud Platforms and Hosted Applications

it-balancing-actConfusing Value Propositions: Cloud Platforms and  Hosted Applications

When a service provider is in the business of selling computing resources – like bandwidth, processors and memory, and disk storage – it makes a lot of sense to also leverage the value of software products and systems which drive consumption of computing resources.  In short, they market and sell software that runs on the platform in order to get folks to buy the platform, no different from selling desktop and server software in order to sell the hardware to run it.  It’s just that these days the hardware and networking components are often referred to as the “platform” or maybe “the cloud”.

Let’s face it… cloud computing platforms are just no fun if there’s nothing to run on them, and a hard drive has little value when there isn’t anything stored on it.  Once there is something there – an application, data… something – then the part has actual value in terms of driving revenue.  This is the difficulty and the basis for confusing value propositions when it comes to offering and delivering services in the form of a hosting platform.  Once again: platforms are just no fun if there’s nothing to run on them.  Is the value is really about the applications, not the platform? Or is the value in the platform, because it’s necessary for running the applications?

The truth is that both are essential parts of the entire “solution”, and the value of how the solution is packaged and offered is purely up to the purchaser to determine in terms of applicability to the business.  When it comes to hosted application offerings for businesses, there isn’t a single one-size-fits-all approach that will work.  Sometimes people want to purchase from different vendors and put their own solutions together, and sometimes folks want turnkey delivery of whatever they need.  Even channel partners and value-added resellers are finding that, with diminishing margins and aggressive competition prevalent in the market, removing the time-consuming aspects of solution delivery becomes paramount to achieving some level of profitability on the work.

What this means is that providers are looking for ways to increase the overall value and usability of their solutions, and when it comes to platform services there are only two directions to look: automation to support self-service, and application software delivery to drive consumption and usage on the hosting platform.

So now we’re back to the applications again.  There’s no way to avoid them, but there’s no great way for platform companies to engage with them, either.  Working with business application software is sometimes complicated, often annoying, and can be exceptionally time-consuming and resource intensive. And there are few licensing models which make it really easy for hosts and ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) to work together.  Then, of course, there is the desire for exclusivity on one side or the other.

Software companies don’t generally want to select a single platform provider for their software for a very simple reason: they don’t want to limit their potential user base.  Now that Windows platform is available just about anywhere – on local computers, on mobile devices, from platform and infrastructure hosting providers – how does the ISV make a decision on a single delivery channel or model or provider?

Some lean towards working with hosting providers to create branded, point-deliveries of the application.  Too often, however, this approach removes the ability for customers to benefit from other applications or integrations, eliminating some of the value of the solution and certainly curtailing benefits for integrating partners of the ISV.

Host it themselves?  The last thing most software developers want is to be responsible for hosting and maintaining some other guys’ software products; they have enough to worry about with their own offerings.  If the solution is standalone, maybe this approach works.  But there are few solutions made for the desktop which don’t have some strange integration point with MS Office apps, Adobe reader, Internet browsers or other things prevalent on the user desktop.

There isn’t any proven or easy path for software developers, IT suppliers or small business customers looking to create mobility and managed subscription service around desktop and server applications, and there is likely never going to be a single story line that all will follow.  This is among the reasons for the popularity of the “hybrid” cloud approach and growing importance of managed application hosting and ISV-authorized delivery models.  Yet even key providers in those areas have a tough time really communicating what they do in a way that is meaningful to the buyer.  Are they selling a platform, applications, or both? Folks in the industry know the jargon and how to use it, and are often skilled at adjusting their language in order to obfuscate or confuse certain sticky issues regarding software licensing in the cloud and other similar aspects of hosting.  It’s no wonder that many customers remain confused as to what, exactly, they’re being asked to buy, and where the lines of flexibility and responsibility are drawn.

The applications justify the platform, and there are possibly multiple platform approaches to delivering the app. It is a confusing situation for business buyers of IT as well as for their resellers and suppliers, and the increasing number of options for how businesses approach purchasing and using information technology makes it unlikely that the process will become as simple as some suggest.

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Small Business IT Governance: You really need it now

Small Business IT Governance:

You really need it now

it-balancing-actBig changes are going on in the world of information technology and business.  Where social computing and  mobility are no longer purely consumer concerns, enterprise IT departments face a growing requirement to embrace user devices and access in environments which were once strictly and closely controlled.  Enterprise IT may be challenged when presented with user personal devices and demands for remote access to enterprise data, yet the governance of systems is generally well-defined and strictly performed.  In small business, however, the people, policy and process issues (collectively incorporated into “governance”) tend to be more organic, and the use of personal devices and open access is more frequently considered to be a normal part of the overall business IT profile.

It is a focus on defining controls and processes, and influencing the activities and attitudes of the people involved, which has become an essential requirement in small business.  Where management of information technology resources was not of great concern to the small business owner before, increased device and information mobility (removal of physical boundaries) and erosion of logical boundaries around personal and business computing have become a really big deal for everyone in business. Small businesses just don’t often have departments of people working on the problem.

Technology use in business has always come at a price, and as various influences continue to change how users interact with devices, applications and systems, business owners and IT managers will continue to face difficult choices between balancing security of information resources and providing a productivity-enhancing user experience.   Too many security barriers result in avoidance of security protocols, slow or immobile company computers result in users working on their own machines and portables, and restricting access for mobile users results in “shadow IT” implementations of mobile sync and other data access approaches.

Yet “shadow IT” tends to be the norm with many small businesses, where there are often fewer barriers to implementing solutions which address individual user issues or problems.  Lacking the resources or understanding to develop a strong plan for managing information systems and technology within the business, small business owners often consider the computer systems and computerized data to be tools to get jobs done rather than strategically valuable assets to be strictly controlled and protected.  These business owners are not recognizing the ever-increasing need to not simply secure business information, but to establish processes and rules which will govern how users and devices access and interact with the information and systems.

Enterprise IT departments have often viewed their small business counterparts (customers, suppliers, etc.) as potential points of vulnerability, an attitude which was once considered to be centered not on real assessments of the risk but more in terms of ego, level of sophistication, and hierarchy in the food chain.  In today’s world of real risk introduced by myriad technological and human elements in every link in the supply chain, enterprise IT conclusions regarding the risk potential of doing business with anyone – including small businesses – may not be entirely unfounded.  Whether it be commentary and information distributed by individuals via social media or malware or corruption introduced inadvertently (or not) via computerized interaction, there is the possibility of risk introduced with every system, person and process involved.  Enterprise to enterprise, these issues may be more often recognized and remediated; where the SMB is involved, not always so much.

This is a brave new world of computing, and there is truth in that even the smallest of businesses can “compete with the big guys” when the right mixture of technology and process is applied – for good or bad.  Technology enables businesses to be more productive, get more done with fewer resources and perform at higher levels. IT Governance in small business is no longer an optional area of focus, addressed only during infrequent discussions with the local contract IT guy when he comes in to defrag the hard drive on a slow computer.  Establishing the proper processes and controls to wrap around IT use in the business has become an imperative; a necessarily specific and considerate approach to how information technology is used within the business, who uses it, and what IT is composed of.

Just about every business, and most individuals, are connected in some manner via some type of network, representing a dramatic and dynamic change to the traditional composition of business IT and the landscape of vulnerabilities which threaten it.  The increased connectedness, capability and complexity of systems and networks requires a greater focus on overall IT governance – exercising authority and controls – as the impact (just like the information) can easily and unintentionally reach far beyond the boundaries of the individual business.

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“People are nothing more than another operating system”, says Lance Spitzner, training director for the Securing The Human Program at SANS Institute.  “Computers store, process and transfer information, and people store, process and transfer information,”  How Hackers Fool Your Employees