In a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended global business. From local insurance agencies to multinational corporations, companies around the world have had to scramble to continue operations with their employees working remotely from home. In the United States alone, more than 265 million Americans are living under official social distancing or shelter-in-place guidelines.
Even without the pandemic, cloud-based tools were surging in popularity; now the demand has skyrocketed.
According to a JPMorgan report, video-conferencing tool Zoom has seen its daily usage rise by more than 300% from before the pandemic. And on March 18, Microsoft announced that its collaboration tool Teams added 12 million daily users just that week, bringing the total to 44 million.
This transition to remote work on such a massive scale would not have been possible in the server-led infrastructure of 15 to 20 years ago.
Put simply, without today’s prevalence of cloud computing, remote system access, and video conferencing capabilities, most white-collar workers would not be able to work from home. And if we didn’t have this remote workability, the economy would grind to a complete halt – producing a disruption on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. As it is, service industries including hospitality, travel and entertainment are bearing the brunt of the financial impact of the stay-at-home orders since they largely do not have remote work as a viable option.
Cloud computing, known for its flexibility, reliability and security, has emerged as one of the few saving graces for businesses during this pandemic. Its use is critical for companies to maintain operations, but even more critical for their ability to continue to service their customers. However, many organizations have lost sight of the original purpose of the cloud, and are therefore failing to fully harness its potential.
Resetting the compass
In 1999, Marc Benioff founded Salesforce, pioneering cloud computing with its software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. This was launched as a fully public cloud, a model that Salesforce has driven from the industry’s infancy.
More than 20 years later, it’s clear we’ve strayed from Benioff’s original vision. Often, when companies discuss the cloud today, they’re referring to a hybrid public-private model they’ve adopted to balance their concerns about security breaches with their desire to reap the benefits of running some enterprises through a public cloud vendor.
Institutional heritage and the “this is the way it’s always been done” mindset can drive the desire to operate a hybrid cloud or even maintain some on-premises software. Internal control can also be a factor, as organizations might not want to adopt a cloud vendor’s scheduled maintenance and upgrades.
Those arguments fail to recognize the benefits of a fully integrated cloud model and the risks of separating operations via a hybrid cloud model.
- Within a full cloud, operations are streamlined among all teams — support, professional services and security — leading to less redundancy of tasks and greater overall efficiency.
- Multiple providers can deliver different levels of services, leading to differing outcomes within cloud and on-premises operations. If a vendor operates some of an organization’s cloud services but not others, that organization could have different versions of software running, creating inconsistency between its operations. Private clouds might not be in sync with public clouds.
- Security levels could also vary across hybrid clouds and on-premises software, leaving operations open to risk if similar protocols cannot be integrated across the board. (It’s worth noting that a 2019 Gartner report predicted that through 2020, 95% of cloud security failures will be the customer’s fault.)
- Now is the optimal time to fully commit to cloud computing
Overall, cloud computing is on the rise, with the majority of business leaders citing security and data protection as the prime motivating factor, according to a March 2020 Deloitte Insights report.
Still, the majority of companies have not adopted a purely public cloud model. Ninety-four percent of respondents in the 2019 State of the Cloud Report from Flexera use the cloud, but only 31% of enterprises characterized the public cloud as a top priority. The report also found that 84% of enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy, and those with a hybrid strategy (public and private) grew from 51% in 2018 to 58% in 2019.
The good news is that Gartner predicts that by 2022, up to 60% of organizations will be using an external cloud. That same 2019 survey projected the public cloud service market will grow 17% worldwide in 2020 to reach $266.4 billion (up from $227.8 billion last year).
Actual growth is certain to be higher, as more and more businesses around the world have been forced to move operations off-sight due to the pandemic.
The world will eventually emerge from this period of remote work, but the way we do business will forever be transformed.
We have a unique opportunity to consider how cloud apps are allowing us to operate our businesses in this environment of large-scale remote work, and how they may continue to provide workplace innovation in the future — as disruptive events (such as WWII) often lead to permanent changes in the business landscape.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2017 to 2018, only 29% of American workers could work from home. After this pandemic, will workers who’ve adapted to remote work want to return to working in an office — and will their employers want them to?
The COVID-19 pandemic may give business the jolt it needs to move cloud computing integration back to the magnetic north set by Benioff two decades ago.