Delivering complexity via the cloud will take time

The cloud is here to stay, and how we implement technology is quickly evolving to adapt to this new model.

by Christian Buckley on 4/19/2014

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Software delivery in the cloud is a no-brainer: You build for the web, thereby simplifying both consumption and integration. When I first began writing articles on software development back in the mid-1990s, I became involved in some of the communities focused around standards-based development and code- reuse. These communities were organized to think about, collaborate around, and create complex technologies that could provide hooks and connections into every conceivable data platform and information technology workload.

Looking back at the last decade, it is clear that the internet has largely become that connector -- a vast middleware platform through which all of our tools and systems communicate. Yes, I know that there are still communications protocols within the web, and its not exactly a black box that seamlessly connects all tools, all systems, and all data. But you have to recognize that the advances we've made do indeed reduce the complexity of communication between tools and systems that we experienced 10 to 15 years ago. With the rising influence of mobile applications through ever fewer mainstream platforms (iOS, Android, Windows), cloud-based platforms will simplify things even more in the next few years.

The problems with the cloud, in my view, will have less to do with the data and security issues that we're talking about today. Those issues will come to an end. The data sovereignty issues will be resolved, and decisions will be made about which data can be used within the cloud and which data should remain on premises. I'm not worried about all of that.

The primary issue I see is with the functional limitations of those standardized platforms.

Let's look at one example. I understand why Microsoft is pushing so hard toward Office365: SharePoint on premises is a nightmare to keep updated, and to support. At my last company, we supported 38 different configurations of SharePoint, which is a drop in the bucket compared to what Microsoft has to support.

That's just one facet of the problem. Another facet: Microsoft has long been surrounded by a vast partner ecosystem of solutions to enhance and extend their product efforts, but many of Microsoft's biggest and most vocal customers demand that the company fill many of its product gaps with native capabilities. With these demanding customers, a highly competitive field, and an industry that is shifting toward new engagement models (mobile and social), Microsoft has a lot to think about just to maintain ground. Microsoft recognizes that to more quickly fill this gap, customers need to reduce the complexity of their requirements, which is not always realistic.

One of the best lines from the AIIM Trendscape: Content and the Cloud comes from the recommendations for action: "The cloud is not the place to try and do complex process customizations."

The limited capability of the native-web and mobile applications that we use is where the pushback on the cloud will come from -- not in the data being shared. These applications will not be at parity with our mature, customized, and powerful on-premises solutions.

We love SharePoint because of its extensibility, but we hate it because of its complexity. The grass isn't greener on the other side of the fence, folks. Every major WCM or RM platform has the same issues -- SharePoint is just the biggest. With power comes complexity, and complexity generally comes from non-standardized solutions.

I'm not saying we won't solve these issues. Will we eventually be able to create and then launch complex workflows from a mobile application? Yes. Will we be able to access an admin console and modify, then run, a script that automates a series of reports to end users, or provides updates and real-time stats to a management scorecard from a tablet while sitting on a train with shaky wi-fi access? You bet. I just think it's going to take longer to achieve our vision of the applications of the future than most marketers would have us believe.

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