Are field service firms rushing to embrace the scalability and efficiencies of cloud-based solutions? Not quite, according to Saul Sherry, the editor of ServiceManagement365, who recently spoke to SmartVan from his London office about how C-level executives have so far only dipped a toe into the possibilities of the cloud.
What do you think are the biggest impacts of cloud computing for field service firms in the U.K.?
The possibility it brings in terms of scaling is something that appeals to the majority of service providers in the U.K. and the fact that there is less capital expenditure. They can scale up when they have heavier periods and scale down, so they’re not overstocked in terms of IT requirements when things get a bit quiet.
Obviously, with the Olympics coming next year that would be a massive boon to be able to ramp up numbers around those months.
Has there been a democratization effect with the cloud, so smaller firms have access to technology that in the past they wouldn’t be able to afford?
That’s definitely conceptually astute, but in terms of the smaller organizations actually grabbing a hold of those opportunities, I’m not sure if there’s actually too much that’s been happening.
I think the phrase “the cloud” really carries quite a lot of pollution with it in terms of what the message actually is, because if you use Google Docs or anything like that you’re essentially using cloud computing. I think it sounds a little bit more complex than it actually needs to be.
A lot of organizations, they’re starting to research it now, and so I think the message is starting to come through. But it’s also not as much of a short-term investment as a lot of the literature would lead you to believe. If you’re going to get a good service from your cloud product you need quite a long contract. You need to spend a lot of time figuring out what you actually want it to do for you. It’s not a short-term fix.
As people do their research and look into it, what sort of solutions will smaller firms be looking for?
I think we’re going to see standardized software packages that can run on the cloud that can be adapted for all sorts of different businesses. So if they’re a small firm of plumbers or engineers that need to get out there, it’ll almost be, not quite off the shelf, but they’ll be a level of pre-sets in there and then they can tinker with it just to make sure it suits their size and the value that they need.
Do those sort of products exist already or is the market not providing them yet?
No, they are to market, and obviously more and more vendors are coming up with cloud solutions as 2011 has progressed, and you can see 2012 will be quite a good in terms of pushing that out.
Will we see a big increase in organizations adopting these solutions in 2012 then?
Well, it’s difficult to tell really because the way the U.K. is responding to the cloud and the way Europe is responding to the cloud is very different to the way organizations in the U.S. seemed to have embraced it in the last six to twelve months. I think next year will probably be a lot of the vendors aligning their USPs around cloud offerings. Whether or not consumers end up buying into it remains to be seen.
From a few conversations I’ve had, it sounds like American organizations are much more willing to embrace, not specifically the cloud, but new technologies in general in the way that they’re operating. Whereas with the cloud in the U.K., people are dragging their feet a little bit or they’re a little bit more wary about what it can do for them.
How have mobile devices like tablets that run on the cloud transformed service?
The whole service industry is essentially run on those PDAs and mobile devices, so there’s obviously a lot of capability there in terms of talking directly to the cloud and taking those well established routines that the engineers out in the field have and linking them straight into the back office via the cloud. It makes sense. It’s a natural fit for service management.
So are firms embracing these cloud-linked mobile devices more quickly because it’s such a natural fit?
Yeah, I think once it starts to happen, that’s not going to be a barrier at all. I think it has more to do with the C-level decision making to invest in the cloud and see those scalability options.
At the present time then, how prevalent are cloud solutions in the U.K.?
If you walk into any office in the U.K. at the moment, someone in there will already be utilizing a cloud computing solution for something, whether it’s just Google Docs or some kind of social network. It’s all there in the cloud and it’s about that data storage. But when it comes down to the really technical IT stuff, which is what, when the media talks about cloud, it’s pushing out there – the virtual directories and what have you, the really geeky tech stuff – I think that’s going to take a little bit longer for people to get their heads around.
In general, everybody’s pretty much already using the cloud, but they haven’t used it to replace everything that they do yet. I don’t know if they ever will. It depends on how much people will trust that system because you have, obviously, a lot of security issues, a lot of issues in terms of where those servers storing the data are actually allowed to be in terms of transnational legalities and what have you. I think next year it’ll be a big push on cloud providers jostling for that number one position, and then it is really up to them to convince subscribers as to its worth.
The thing that brought it in, and it’s a conversation that’s still being had, is the fact that a cloud option takes you away from capital expenditure on to operational expenditure, so it should essentially free up money so that you can focus on providing top-class service to your customers. But it’s a matter of defining how you’re going to embrace the cloud.
Is the tough economic climate driving some of this interest in cloud solutions?
Yeah, absolutely. Obviously, service departments in the last few years have moved from a cost base through to a profit base, but there is still a big issue on efficiency, a big push on getting those departments to turn around as much money as possible on as little money as possible. So if the cloud can deliver on that and people see case studies showing them that it can, then I think you will see a little bit more buy-in.