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The Decision Factor offers insightful comments and observations on analytics—from views on new technology approaches and market dynamics to the latest industry trends driving demand for faster, smarter information analysis. This blog contains personal views, thoughts, and opinions from SAP employees, mentors, and friends working in the area of analytics. It’s not endorsed by SAP nor does it constitute an official communication of SAP.

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The Digital Rush! Customers Define a New Era for Cloud Content

The need for information is just as strong today, if not stronger, than it was hundreds of years ago. But the ways we access information, and the forms it exists in, are dramatically different. I like to compare the past two decades’ changing landscape of digital information to the California Gold Rush of the 1800s. As they did during the Gold Rush, droves of people are jumping on the band wagon with the hope of achieving unprecedented riches and their 15 minutes of fame. Today, they hope to do it by creating content to post on social channels (like YouTube videos, controversial stories, and provocative blogs).

The similarities end when we look to the future, however, since the supply of digital content, unlike that of gold, is only going to get bigger in the coming decades. In fact, there’s no end in sight when you consider that the number of people on the planet today with smart phones is expected to rise dramatically.

This is, in fact, the underlying reason why the cloud is here to stay. When we think of on-premises applications and content, it’s customary to think of content supporting business processes and applications. In other words, the apps lead the content. But in the case of the cloud, there’s strong evidence to the contrary.

Another way to look at this is to follow the development cycle of applications versus content. Traditionally, on-premises applications are created first and then the content is managed as an after-thought. With the cloud, however, the content in many ways is leading the development, adoption, and acceptance of applications in the cloud. According to the 451 Research Cloud Market Snapshot 2012* report, “Cloud computing is moving beyond the proof-of-concept stage toward a higher level of adoption in terms of both workloads and application types. In addition to continued adoption by programmers and SMBs, large enterprises are beginning to recognize the benefits of the public cloud, and despite continued challenges such as security, complexity and legacy investment, the public cloud is increasingly becoming a part of the enterprise IT strategy.”

As we see business applications move to the cloud, the line between data in these applications (transactional and structured in nature) and related content (unstructured in form) in the cloud will become even more blurred. In addition, distinctions between personal devices and business devices, intranet and internet, on-premise versus cloud, private cloud versus public cloud, webmail versus email, are also seeing a shift as we change how we look at our personal versus business lives

Cloud Adoption Benefits—Ease and Speed

By far, the number one reason for cloud adoption is the ease and speed of access to information. Cost is a close second, but most organizations in the near term will use a hybrid of on-premises and cloud applications. In order to manage cost across the enterprise for big data, organizations would need to break up their big data into separate, “baby” big data’s for each particular use case or scenario. Then they would need to start where the most value is for their customers in terms of ease of use and the fastest possible time for access to the right information.

Cloud Adoption Risks—Security

Whenever critical operations aren’t physically located on-premises in either a server or storage hardware, the basic human fear of the unknown comes into play. So it’s quite natural for businesses and people in general to be skeptical about having their mission critical content located in the cloud. As with many fears, there’s a lot that can be done to allay them in order to achieve what the business needs. In order to properly address legitimate security concerns, companies must consider rights and access, backup and restore issues, disaster recovery, and business continuity plans.

Follow Your Customer

So where is the customer in all of this discussion?

Your customer is becoming more and more like a quantum particle following the Uncertainty Principle —you can’t predict his position and preferred interaction at any given moment. He or she could be calling you and interacting with your organization through your customer interaction application, or he could be blasting away about your products or service on Twitter.

The only way for a business to effectively manage this new reality is to follow the customer. The business applications must capture what your customers’ needs are and serve it to them in the form they prefer. All content must follow the apps and business processes whether they exist in on-premises or cloud applications. The only logical way to manage the avalanche of content generated every second is by linking it to the specific business processes.

This way, if your customer complains about your product in a Tweet, you can connect the Tweet to your CRM system and not only link it to the specific customer and product he or she purchased, but also Tweet back with a support or reference ticket number. Business will become more transparent, and in the end the customers win.

I would love to hear from you. How are you leveraging content in the cloud for your business?