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4/25/2012
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Converting Your Product To Cloud Service: Lessons Learned

Many technology suppliers don't understand the cloud and are slow to convert. Accenture says you should learn from the example of Salesforce.com and others.

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Converting from a traditional technology company into one that delivers its former product as a service from the cloud "requires a dramatic departure from how most incumbent companies are run today," concludes a new Accenture report, "Where the Cloud Meets Reality: Scaling to Succeed in New Business Models."

The report cites three companies that are succeeding with cloud business models in one form or another: Salesforce.com, RightNow Technologies, and McKesson. But it also notes many technology company executives don't understand how disruptive cloud business models are to their traditional way of building and shipping products.

The main thrust of the report is about how leading technology companies need to convert their products into cloud services and products, but are struggling to do so. Implicit is the possibility that if leading technology suppliers are troubled by the transition, then many other companies are likely to be as well. As a matter of fact, if a technology supplier doesn't understand the cloud and is slow to convert, that's going to leave its customers behind their competitors who are served by more cloud-adept technology suppliers.

Some technology companies, such as IBM, HP, Cisco and Dell, have decided to become cloud infrastructure service providers in one form or another, and also supply hardware and software to those companies that wish to build out cloud data centers. Likewise, Intuit and Microsoft, software publishers, are both becoming software as a service suppliers. All of these transitions require new business models to be put in place and new business processes to implement them.

[ Learn more about how cloud computing will change conventional business models. Read Accenture Sees High Tech Firms Moving To Multiple Business Models. ]

Hosting providers "have it the easiest, as the cloud is in many ways just the next generation of services that they already provide," the report said. But they are operations-focused companies that will need to become more innovation and focus more on consultative services in the future, the report warns. Infrastructure as a service suppliers such as Rackspace and SoftLayer have become cloud suppliers by evolving their hosting businesses.

"Most companies [that] come from a transactional, product-based and channel-centric mindset are woefully unprepared to deliver the world-class customer experience demanded by anything-as-a-service models," the Accenture authors Tim Jellison, Dave Sovie and Sam Glick concluded.

The report, issued April 23, said the transition to cloud products requires a new governance model to handle cloud complexity, and requires the creation of a new role, Chief Operational Architect.

Two companies cited in the report for having added cloud business models to their existing businesses are Apple and Sony. Both were previously producers of consumer electronics. Accenture says their emerging business model is that of content and service providers from the cloud; Apple in particular has demonstrated how additional business models in the cloud can be grafted onto a traditional device maker's strategy.

Company executives need to define their cloud business model, which consists of how the company will make money in a particular market with its product or service. The business model is a combination of a target customer, an offering or value proposition to the customer, and a revenue model. In cloud computing, revenue is usually raised one of two ways: by charging for timed use, or through subscriptions. These elements are combined with a go-to-market approach for the full business model, according to the report.

The business model is distinct from the operational model--the set of business processes, people, and systems that implement the business model.

In the Salesforce.com example, co-founder Parker Harris told the Accenture authors that it was important that Salesforce adopted an approach to scale its applications Internet-style to thousands and tens of thousands of simultaneous users, as opposed to developing on-premises software for use by one company. In addition, a healthy tension developed between development teams, focused on innovation in three product releases per year for a total of 500 releases across the product portfolio, versus the operational team, that needed to ensure continuous operation and minimal impact of changes on the customer. Salesforce.com had to devise its own version of agile development and devOps that maintained that tension, Harris said, a different way of operation from a traditional software company. It also uses several scorecards and tools to correlate what's going on with customers in their interactions with Salesforce.com and the likelihood they will renew their subscriptions. Salesforce appoints customer success managers to deal with customers, not technical support personnel, because users want prescriptive advice on how to better use the software in their businesses.

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