Many independent entrepreneurial businesses are already using cloud computing apps (online Web-based software applications) to run their businesses. And if you’re not already trying out cloud apps, by 2020 many among us expect them to almost replace local apps residing on your own computers, according to the fourth "Future of the Internet" survey by the Pew Research Center and Elon University.
That’s an interesting prediction about cloud computing, and one I happen to agree with. But we have a long ways to go before we get there. There’s still a wide gap between that future vision, and reality of today. Specifically, I see three issues that have to be resolved.
First, let’s take a look at future expectations.
According to the Pew survey, the year 2020 is the date that the majority of tech experts and general public say cloud computing will almost replace desktop computing (apps loaded on your local computers).
Seventy two percent of experts and 71 percent of the general public agreed in the Pew survey that in 2020 “most people won't work from a PC running software, but from Internet- and smartphone-based applications.” Another 25 percent of experts and 27 percent of the general public agreed that “most people will still work from a PC running software, with Internet- and smartphone-based applications having some functionality.”
Yet, in my view there are still three key issues to overcome before cloud apps become nearly ubiquitous in small businesses. The study also noted similar issues to those I see:
- Mobile apps have terrible interfaces for mission critical business apps -- It’s all well and good to talk about accessing online apps with mobile devices. However, most hand-held devices such as smartphones or even the iPad, don’t yet have user interfaces that make it easy to do heavy-duty work on them. Today’s mobile devices are much more suited for Web surfing and light messaging. Ergonomically and physically, it’s hard to spend hours of intensive in-depth work on mission critical business apps using even a small netbook-type laptop, let alone smaller handheld devices. Somehow, the user interface issue needs to be resolved if we’re truly going to be “mobile.”
- Security and privacy of data are still wild card issues -- These days small businesses are more comfortable with their data being accessible on the Web, than they were a decade ago when I first proposed an application that put customer data online in the company I worked in. Back then, business owners were horrified with the idea of their data residing anywhere but on their own computers. Today, there is more comfort with data in the cloud; however, concern has not disappeared. Every security breach that gets reported in the news, has the potential to lessen business owners’ confidence in Web apps. Application providers will have to maintain the highest levels of vigilance over security and privacy issues.
- Customer service for Web apps leaves a lot to be desired -- All too many cloud-based apps make it difficult to get customer service promptly – or at all. Sending an email and hoping for a response within 48 hours is NOT an acceptable way for most of us to run a business. Nor is being directed to an online forum manned by volunteers, where you may or may not get reliable answers. We might put up with this for apps that aren’t central to running the business. But for mission-critical business applications such arrogant “customer service” is just not acceptable.
Check out the Pew report for more about future expectations for cloud computing, and the obstacles to overcome. While the report notes that large businesses are far less likely to put most of their work "in the cloud" because of control and security issues, many small businesses are already doing so, making the future of cloud computing especially interesting to SMBs like us. Read more about the study at the PEW website.