Large companies struggling with the shift from inhouse IT to cloud services have much to gain from setting up a portal of online services that the business can choose from
Businesses looking for an orderly way to move systems to the cloud could learn a thing or two from the UK government's CloudStore - a portal where public bodies can buy online services.
CloudStore launched on Sunday, initially offering SaaS, IaaS and PaaS and specialist cloud services from 257 companies. More services will be added later this year.
This central pot of essential IT services - providing everything from email to ERP systems - is designed to allow government bodies to compare prices and choose from a variety of suppliers. Its aim is to encourage organisations to employ off-the-shelf systems, rather than bespoke ones, and drive suppliers to offer more competitive rates.
Here's why private sector organisations should consider setting up their own version of the CloudStore.
1. You can mix and match the best services
The breadth of services available through a cloud store, when combined with common standards for software interoperability and data formats, allows organisations to piece together a system that matches their needs, providing a low-cost alternative to bespoke systems.
Clive Longbottom, analyst with technology house Quocirca, said: "Since the idea of cloud was first talked about people have been saying 'We need service-orientated architecture based on web services, the composite application that takes pieces of functionality as required and puts them together to create a dynamic application'," he said.
The cloud store model allows departments to cherry-pick the services that balance cost and functionality, he said. For example, in the case of a CRM system, a cloud store allows line managers to ask questions such as, "Do I buy in MapInfo to provide graphical indications of where people are or should I use Google Maps because it's free of charge and does what I want?"
Longbottom added that piecing together cloud services allows for the creation of systems aligned to the way organisations do business, rather than businesses processes being designed to accommodate an IT system.
"Cloud is driving this capability to say, 'I don't want SAP or Oracle E-Business Suite - what I want is something that enables me to take an order from a customer and make sure they get something delivered by the end of the week'. It's about the process not the application."
2. The CIO can regain control
It's never been easier for line managers to bypass the CIO by buying in a cloud service that meets their department's needs and expensing it to the company.
Ad hoc cloud purchases pose a problem for the CIO, introducing unaccredited services to the enterprise, reducing control over IT spend and fragmenting corporate information - leaving it in silos outside the organisation's reach.
The cloud store model reduces the temptation for line managers to stray from centrally-sanctioned services by providing the choice of a variety of software and infrastructure that can be rapidly provisioned, while also ensuring that corporate information doesn't pass outside the firm's control.
"By providing this app store-type environment, you can give people all the information they need. They don't have to go through purchasing and they don't have to justify it to the board. It's exactly the same as going through Salesforce and putting their credit card down, except this time it's the departmental credit card rather than a personal credit card," said Quocirca's Longbottom.
"All of a sudden, the control is bought back. Control is centralised and businesses can start making proper decisions."
Richard Holway, chairman of analyst house TechMarketView, said the cloud store model provides a way to mitigate against the pitfalls of users choosing their own IT services.
"Giving users free rein to use whatever they wish would be a recipe for disaster. However, if instead you tell them, 'You can use the following things from a checklist of services that have been vetted and approved', then clearly that is a good way of going forward," Holway said.
3. Transparent pricing
A cloud store provides a central shopfront for organisations to compare the pricing and features of services, as well as checking reviews by past users of those offerings.
The ease with which cloud store users can compare the cost of different services will help them get a good deal and motivate vendors to keep their prices down to stay competitive.
The store also provides a platform for small and medium-sized companies to sell their services into large organisations, broadening both the choice of services and competition to keep charges down.