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May 28, 2013

Looking down form the clouds

by Anders B. Skjønaa (

There’s nothing new in talking about “the cloud”. “Cloud” has been the top story for years now, but for a lot of organizations it has still not become a part of the day to day operations. Well – you better get ready, because some of the big vendors are moving pretty fast now.

You probably know about some of the things Microsoft is doing. Office 365 and Azure are the big things, but the cloud efforts at Microsoft have been going on for many years and just now we are seeing everything coming together. Microsoft may have the broadest set of cloud offerings to both enterprises, small business and even some very strong offerings to end-users – at home. Maybe that’s why Microsoft is moving in the right direction in the stock market?

Adobe turns to the cloud

About a year ago – or so – Adobe started to broadly market their cloud offering – Creative Cloud – that includes a new way to install all the Adobe products and a set of brand new services around that. And recently they made the following statement:

The company will focus creative software development efforts on its Creative Cloud offering moving forward. While Adobe Creative Suite 6 products will continue to be supported and available for purchase, the company has no plans for future releases of Creative Suite or other CS products. Focusing development on Creative Cloud will not only accelerate the rate at which Adobe can innovate but also broaden the type of innovation the company can offer the creative community.”

So no more Adobe DVD’s and thick manuals. If you are anything like me, you probably kept your Adobe product box standing on the shelf in your office, only because it had a full book inside of it, explaining how to use the product and then because the cost of that box was huge.

So, why do they do this? The obvious answer is naturally, that product shipping becomes much easier and a huge amount of cost is cut away. Not only the book and the box, the design and the print. But also the distribution, the storefront displays, the sales channel… A lot of things are changing and becoming easier.

The question is if it becomes easier for me to? As a consumer, I mean. Well until now, I am positive.

With Adobe I – until Creative Cloud – only invested in a few of their products. The reason was, that the price of Adobe product are reasonably high, so if I could live without one of those boxes, I would. But with Creative Cloud, I get the lot for a price per month that I can deal with. I might be paying more over 3 years that what I used to do, but I am happy, because I get access to a lot of new tools (and toys) that I didn’t even know existed before. And the Adobe guys are happy, because I pay them more money over time now, that I am deeply enrolled in their continuity business.

To be specific; I had PhotoShop, InDesign and Illustrator before. But today I have more than 30 different products. I have special tools for building mobility apps, websites, producing professional videos and much more. And on top of that, I get access to the “extras” that seems to be the new black in cloud enabled software. For Adobe the extras are “Business Catalyst”; a new hosting service where you get 5 free sites as a part of your Creative Cloud subscription. These sites are very nicely integrated to the tools you use to build websites, and if you need more, you can easily upgrade to add more services like e-commerce etc. Other stuff; A Type library of beautiful webfonts, that you can implement on your website with a single click, and it works across most of the Adobe tools. You also get online storage for you creations, and if you are a pro, Adobe even have a network site, where you can show off your portfolio to other Adobe users.

Microsoft is doing the same – only faster…

With Microsoft is more of the same. But Microsoft is just a bit ahead of Adobe on offerings and in the software users are installing. Especially Office – obviously – has made a huge jump towards the cloud with Office 365. You can even go into the local computer store today, and by and “empty” box that says Office 365 on it. It does hold a code that you connect to your Microsoft ID (if you don’t already have one, you need to create one to use the new version of Office) and a few minutes after that you can use Microsoft Office, because it is streaming the software bit by bit to your desktop (you don’t have to wait until everything is downloaded). And the extras? They do vary based on the version of Office 365 you got. But you get things like SkyDrive (beautifully integrated into the software) with a huge online storage quota so people can actually use it as the primary storage, and the extremely cool Office on-demand feature, that lets you use Office applications on computers that don’t even have Office installed (streaming, and only on Windows 7+8, but still). If you get into the larger Office 365 subscriptions, you get a lot more; like SharePoint, Exchange Online, Online websites (for small business) and more and more…

So in general, as a consumer of software, I feel great. Yes, I spend more! But it’s in smaller chunks and I get a LOT more functionality and I can do a lot more with it.

Risks of falling from the cloud..

But, there are some issues with this as well. As I said, I am getting a lot more stuff. We know from experience that giving more stuff for less money is a great selling point. But adding value to the users, is a completely other thing. Are end users understanding the tools they are getting? Are the changes happening too fast for users to adopt to them? I have worked with several clients that have Office 365, but are using Microsoft Office in the way they always did. Most of the “extras” are becoming obsolete. The value proposition of the cloud is not materializing at the users end.

With the software world moving their traditional products to the cloud, hard work must be put into on simplicity, user experience and end-user support. We have been talking about BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) for a while and with these types of offerings, we are getting closer to “BYOS” (Bring Your Own Software) as well. Software vendors are becoming Service vendors (SaaS) so they will have to service the end users much more in the future. The question is, if they are able to do that in the scale that they need to. We are talking about millions of users for Adobe and Microsoft.

I personally think that both of these companies are doing quite well until now. I have tested the service desk both at Adobe and Microsoft and I have been quite satisfied with both. Again, I think that Microsoft have taken it a step further. The user interface of the latest version of SharePoint Online (based on the SharePoint 2013 technology) is very much simplified, making it easier for end users to use SharePoint, out of the box.

Software companies are rushing to the cloud and they are doing it because they can lower the cost, higher the sale per user and engage the user closer with new services we just can’t live without. As consumers, we must demand a world class end-user service and support, and keep an eye on the quality of that service as the millions and millions of users more of less automatically move to these cloud software offerings over the next few years.

Share your story; What are your experiences with using cloud software? We are all going through this change now, when software as we know it is about to disappear, so we might just as well prepare…

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