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Don’t give up too early: You may be ahead of the mainstream

Richard Blanford is a tech entrepreneur building a cloud service business, but has realised the importance of not blindly thinking innovation is mainstream.
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Yesterday I took part in a roundtable discussion about cloud computing, which had been organised by a technology magazine. It made me realise how easy it is to be caught up in your own business and think that something that you’ve been working on for some time is now routine and mainstream, when in fact for the rest of the world it’s still new and challenging.

As a result I’ve decided to re-evaluate how we talk about the services we offer. It means more work for our sales and marketing team, but we need to make sure we’re not assuming a level of knowledge that simply isn’t there yet.

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Cloud computing is certainly not new, and many of us use it outside work through information sharing applications such as Dropbox and Flickr. We’ve been offering cloud services for several years, as have the big public providers such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google. So in terms of technology, cloud is well past the “bleeding edge”.

One of our first customers was one of the engineering consortia building infrastructure for Crossrail, which chose cloud because it enabled the company to add capacity as the project developed and then scale it back at the end of the work. Well, that time has now arrived – it has completed tunnelling, and as I write this we are archiving its information as the organisation winds up the project team.

You’d think that a technology which has supported one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the UK for the last six years would be considered tried, tested and mainstream. But the roundtable showed me that many businesses are still very wary. We’ve been working to demystify cloud through white papers, seminars, articles in the media and so on, and I thought it was time to move onto other topics. I’ve now realised that we have a tendency to give up too early on things, before they become part of the mainstream, simply because we’re so familiar with them and think that others must be too. We need to keep talking about technologies until they become part of the mass market.

It’s a lesson I’ll be discussing in our next sales meeting, as it has important implications for the way the sales team work. They need to be prepared to answer some fairly basic questions when talking to potential customers, and suggest ways customers can dip a toe in the water and try cloud while minimising the risk. One option is to use it for disaster recovery, which means a business can learn how well its applications work in the cloud without having to compromise its day-to-day operations.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that cloud requires a fundamental change in the way people do things. It’s not just a technology upgrade, like moving to the latest version of Windows, but a different way of “consuming” IT.  Cloud computing will have an impact on your IT department if you run your IT service internally, as you will need to restructure your IT team and learn skills to manage cloud providers, while several skills they currently need to support your in house systems will become redundant.

However, this offers an excellent chance for your IT team to learn new skills, which can actually contribute to your bottom line rather than being a cost to the business. For example, you can set up a portal through which users access all their IT services. People like it because it’s easy to use and gives them more control, while it’s good for your business because you can manage services centrally and standardise what people receive. This will give most organisations a compelling business case and substantial cost savings.

The other major concern raised at the roundtable is security – somewhat ironic given that the event was sponsored by a major ISP who suffered a well-publicised breach a couple of years ago.

Security is something that we’re constantly focusing on. This week, after a long assessment process, we achieved the UK government’s PSN (Public Services Network) certification to offer our cloud services over HM government’s private, secure network to any government organisation that has the requirements, security classification and suitable policies in place to connect to it.

Back in the office, it’s back to working out how best to provide cloud services to the customers which have decided to make the move to cloud. We’ve just finalised a contract with an NHS organisation to provide a complete IT service over the next five years, which will enable staff to access any service from wherever they are. Now I need to schedule a meeting with the project manager to ensure we have all the resources in place when the work kicks off at the beginning of March.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Richard Blanford

Richard Blanford set up Fordway in 1991 and grew it through winning and delivering increasingly larger contracts. In 2011 he led a major investment in infrastructure, staff and training to enable Fordway to offer managed cloud services, which now provide approximately half the company’s total revenues.

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