Innovation in the clouds

How cloud computing, mainly seen as a way to reduce IT costs, is likely to be a platform for widespread innovation across industries?

In their book, The Innovator’s DNA, Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen reported the results of their eight-year study in which they “sought a richer understanding of disruptive innovators.” Their studies showed that innovative entrepreneurs and executives behaved similarly when discovering breakthrough ideas. The authors characterized these behaviors through five skills: Networking, Experimenting, Associating, Questioning and Observing.

It is my belief that cloud computing directly supports at least three of the five skills.

Networking: Innovators are in constant pursuit of ideas through a diverse network of individuals. They socialize and test ideas by talking to people who may radically different points of views. Their approach is in contrast to that of most organizations, which continue to block access to popular social networking sites. However, the same organizations recognize the value of information shared among those who need it in a timely manner. Cloud computing brings in the controls organizations look for while enabling users freely socialize with each other. It helps break down organizational and geographic borders and opens the door for new opportunities to collaborate with sister organizations and competitors. A recent example of this is a software that allows multiple companies to share one issue tracking system and collaborate behind the scenes while end-users experience seamless issue resolution.

Experimenting: Innovators are tireless experimenters. They try out ideas, pilot concepts and collect feedback as much and as early as possible. Failure is not a concern for them. As Edison put it, they do not fail, they find 10,000 ways something will not work.

It is almost too easy to experiment in the cloud. In the past, IT prototypes required large capital expenditures, infrastructure builds, and personnel. Now, one can buy whatever level of computing (one server or a super-computer) without any up-front investment and start using it within minutes. There is no need to estimate and budget for usage many months in advance. There is no need for time-consuming setups, personnel training, hardware/software maintenance, etc. Now, one can experiment almost as fast as one can come up with ideas.

Associating is the ability to create meaningful conclusions from seemingly unrelated matters. It is the ability to see something that is before our eyes but most (if not all) others fail to recognize because they do not make the associations.

The exponential growth of data does not make it any easier either. In addition to the excessive amount of data on the internet, most organizations have their proprietary data and information on different systems, which don’t typically connect with each other. Cloud computing, with its centralized and connected nature, makes bringing information together and distilling valuable knowledge so much easier by taking away one barrier: disconnected, incompatible systems.

I am leaving the other two skills the authors list, Questioning and Observing,  out of this article but I would be curious to hear your opinions about how cloud computing may help with questioning and observing.

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