A game-changing innovation in technology is well underway, and most of us aren’t even noticing. It started out as news, then became background noise, and now it’s such a quiet hum that most of us don’t hear it.
This quiet revolution is the move from the physical to the virtual; in a word, it’s cloud. It’s the move from physical servers with an operating system to virtual servers (think VMware), to containers (think Docker). It’s the move from buying CPUs to leasing them by the second in someone else’s data center (think AWS EC2). It’s the move from buying software, to paying for access to that software (think Office365). It’s the move from owning a PC to having a login to a virtual desktop (think Amazon Workspaces).
In the beginning of this transformation, moving computing activities and data to “the cloud” was a choice. Careful IT leaders—especially in collection agencies and other businesses entrusted with the care of their clients’ data—weighed the risks and benefits of such a move, and many stayed put in their established data centers with servers they could hug.
Since then, computing and storage in the cloud has become the default, and there’s no going back. Dave Bartolutti, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester, reports that nearly 60% of North American enterprises now rely on public cloud platforms—five times the percentage from just five years ago (Forbes, December 2018).
Even in the financial services arena, 22% of applications are being run in the cloud now. Fintech leaders responding to an informal survey at a recent Bloomberg conference said they expect that more than 80% will be in the cloud by 2022 (Bloomberg, August 2019).
As Concerns Fade, Progress Accelerates
So why isn’t everyone already completely there, with all things in the cloud? Well, the common concerns that keep many of us out of the cloud relate to security, costs, and control. For a long time, the perceived distance to the cloud presented security and privacy concerns. We are now seeing that generally, data in the cloud is much more secure (guarded by best practices, the latest technology, and superior processes) than data residing in data centers. Creditors used to discourage or forbid agencies from moving their data to the cloud; now, many creditors embrace the cloud.
Let’s be frank. While proponents tout the cloud as a cost-savings option, it may or may not be less expensive for you. That equation depends entirely on the complexity and sophistication of your premise infrastructure and environment. If you have your mission-critical business application running on a second-hand laptop with a consumer-grade router and modem combo, moving to the cloud will almost certainly be more expensive.
However, if you are investing in your infrastructure sufficiently to be competitive, secure, compliant, reliable, scalable, and highly available, a move to the cloud will very likely be a boon to your bottom line—and may offer the additional benefit of moving costs from capital expenses to operating expenses.
Moving to the cloud isn’t a single activity; it’s a progression, a direction, a strategy. When you consider the landscape of all the activities and data you deal with, you may find that you are further along the continuum to operating in the cloud than you think.
Microsoft is herding its email and MSOffice customers to the cloud; Google’s customers are already there. CompTIA reported in May 2018 that 73% of all enterprises use email hosted in the cloud. Given all the cloud-based applications that facilitate business productivity, collaboration, business analytics, financial management, CRM, human resources, expense management, help desk, call centers, and more, much of your operation may already be in the cloud (CompTIA, May 2018).
Many businesses in the ARM space use cloud-based services in their system of solutions, whether these services take the form of payroll, data improvement, or CRM. For example, hundreds of our own customers rely on our cloud every day for their entire collections platform or one of its major components.
High-Value Benefits You Need to Compete
Storing your data files in the cloud gives you access to scalable, cheap, and secure storage from anywhere on the planet. Since business and IT leaders are also individual consumers, you’ve probably stored business data files in the cloud (even if only to work on that report at home in the evening).
Two of the largest and most frequently overlooked benefits of moving to the cloud are faster innovation and the ability to pull services from different creators (suppliers, publishers, providers) together (i.e., multi-cloud). Interoperability between systems and functions allows for a shorter invention to utilization cycle. For example, if Outlook365 releases an analytics feature, I can begin using it right away. I don’t need IT to upgrade me, I don’t need to put it in next year’s budget, and I don’t need to integrate it to my other premise software. It just runs, and I immediately see the benefit of it.
A third major benefit of moving to the cloud is ease of assimilation of artificial intelligence-based technologies. AI assimilation requires massive data, the volume of which cannot be practically managed in house. As AI is increasingly used to improve consumer communications and strategies, cloud computing becomes inevitable.
How can you move to the cloud while maintaining your track record of success in caring for your customers’ data and outcomes?
- Partner with the right people who enjoy solid reputations and provide trusted services, and craft a cloud strategy of your own (Cloud Academy, September 2019).
- Educate yourself on certifications and other attributes that signal safety—SOC 2 Type II or ISO 9001, PCI, HIPAA, NIST, FISMA, etc.
- As cloud adoption enters maturity, companies are realizing that the hurdles are organizational and not technical (CompTIA, May 2018). Be sure to update your own security and regulatory compliance practices to include working in the cloud.
- Consider what your actual goals are. They will determine if Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Desktop as a Service (DaaS), Managed Services, or even Blank as a Service (not an actual thing) is right for you.
Why is the cloud one of the most important innovations to come to our industry? Because it is quietly changing the game and leveling the field for the smallest of agencies to compete with the largest ones in how they deliver services, safeguard their customers’ data and reputations, and operate their businesses.
Dan Womack is the Director of Engineering; Amy Kennedy is the Senior Director of Emerging Technologies for Ontario Systems, a revenue recovery software and solutions provider to the accounts receivable management industry, and a member of the iA Innovation Council.