Whichever way one turns analysts’ forecasts for the future of cloud computing are positively gushing. Gartner says cloud computing will become the bulk of new IT Spend by 2016 and IDC predicts that over the 2013–2017 forecast period, public IT cloud services will have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.5%, five times that of the IT industry as a whole.
Clearly, the cloud is destined to have a profound impact on all business functions and although cloud adoption in the finance function initially lagged behind other functions, such as humans resources, sales and marketing, it is now clearly catching up.
But as the cloud market starts to mature two important new themes will become more evident in 2014. Firstly, larger organizations are transitioning to the cloud, often as part of a two tier strategy as they seek to wind down legacy systems and simultaneously leverage new applications available in the cloud.
Secondly, cost reduction, although remaining very important, will no longer be seen as the main driver behind a move to the cloud. CFOs will see that the cloud can serve more broadly as a springboard for process transformation, innovation and increased business agility.
2. Social Collaboration To Take Hold
The role of social business tools as part of financial applications will become better understood and appreciated in 2014. Increasingly, social tools will circumvent traditional paper based processes and emails while strengthening audit trails. Instant messenger type capability embedded in accounting applications will allow colleagues to collaborate more closely in financial processes, share information and yield productivity gains.
At the same time the ‘user experience’ will become more fulfilling as individuals come to appreciate information at their fingertips and the ability to work more closely with colleagues to solve shared problems and better serve customers and other stakeholders.
3. Smart Mobility Will Come To The Fore
The opportunities afforded by mobile technology are undeniable. They range from pure convenience, i.e. the ability to retrieve information from corporate systems at any time and from anywhere on a handy mobile device to a more data-rich society in which important decisions can be made ‘on the fly’.
But 2014 will see a subtle shift from consuming information on a mobile device to using a mobile device to harvest new information. We are entering a new era of smart mobility in which the end user can participate more fully in corporate processes while away from the office, for example, authorisation of expenses and timesheets in a PSA (professional services automation) application as well as capturing relevant new information about people, projects, customers, suppliers, and products.
4. Real-Time Analytics Will Be A Key Differentiator
We are in the midst of a revolution with digital data being created at unimaginable rates. This data holds tremendous potential but the challenge is how to identify, access, filter, analyse and use it to advantage. Real time analytics will enable organisations to take threads of information, gather them together to identify trends and opportunities.
Organisations will generate immediate improvements in business performance and gain a competitive edge on rivals, through the use of business dashboards that are continually refreshed to help drive operational decision making in the cloud in real or near real-time.
5. Cementing The Importance Of The ‘Platform’
The cloud is also where many businesses will find the latest innovations as newer applications developed specifically for the cloud displace some older on-premise applications. It is also easier to consume innovation in the cloud since the SaaS (Software as a Service) business model allows all users to leverage new functions and capabilities as soon as they become available without resorting to individual upgrades and migrations as has historically been the case.
These factors are amplified by the concept of the ‘platform’. Put simply this is the idea that independent vendors can position their products in a shared computing environment, with shared infrastructure and common design principles that allow the vendors who occupy the space to seamlessly join their products.
Businesses benefit from the freedom to more easily choose the set of applications that best meet their needs with less compromise than has historically been the case. It is this ability to more easily assemble and integrate functionality in the Cloud which is likely to accelerate the move to the cloud in 2014.