New Workplace Realities Highlight Opportunity for Cloud-Based Apps and Devices

One of the numerous interesting outcomes of our new work realities is that many tech-related ideas introduced over the past few years are getting a fresh look. In particular, products and services based on concepts that seemed sound in theory but ran into what I’ll call “negative inertia”—that is, a huge, seemingly immovable installed base of a legacy technology or application—are being reconsidered.

Some of the most obvious examples of these are cloud-based applications. While there’s certainly been strong adoption of consumer-based cloud services, such as Netflix, Spotify, and many others, the story hasn’t been quite as clear-cut in the business side of the world. Most organizations and institutions (including schools) still use a very large number of pre-packaged or legacy custom-built applications that haven’t been moved to the cloud.

For understandable reasons, that situation has started to change, and the percentage of cloud-friendly or cloud-native applications has begun to increase. Although the numbers aren’t going to change overnight (or even in the next few months), it’s fairly clear now to even the most conservative of IT organizations that the time to expand their usage of cloud-based software and computing models is now.

As a result of this shift in mindset, businesses are reconsidering their interest in and ability to use even more cloud-friendly tools. This, in turn, is starting to create a bit of a domino effect where previous dependencies and/or barriers that were previously considered insurmountable are now being tossed aside at the drop of a hat. It’s truly a time for fresh thinking in IT.

At the same time, companies also now have the benefit of learning from others that may have made more aggressive moves to the cloud several years back. In addition, they recognize that they can’t just start over, but need to use the existing hardware and software resources that they currently own or have access to. The end result is a healthy, pragmatic focus on finding tools that can help companies meet their essential needs more effectively. In real-world terms, that’s translating to a growing interest in hybrid cloud computing models, where both elements of the public cloud and on-premise or managed computing resources in a private cloud come together to create an optimal mix of capabilities for most organizations.

It’s also allowing companies to take a fresh look at alternatives to tools that may have been a critical part of their organization for a long time. In the case of office productivity suites, for example, companies that have relied on the traditional, licensed versions of Microsoft Office can start to more seriously consider something like Google’s cloud native G Suite as they make more of a shift to the cloud. Of course, they may also simply choose to switch to the newly updated Microsoft 365 cloud-based versions of their productivity suite. Either way, moving to cloud-based office productivity apps can go a long way towards a more flexible IT organization, as well as getting end users more accustomed to accessing all their critical applications from the web.

Directly related to this is the ability to look at new alternatives for client computing devices. As I’ve discussed previously, PC clamshell-based notebook form factors have become the de facto workhorses for most remote workers now and the range of different laptop needs has grown with the number of people now using them. The majority of those devices have been (and will continue to be) Windows-based, but as companies start to rely more on cloud-based applications across the board, Chromebooks become a viable option for more businesses as well.

Most of the attention (and sales) for Chromebooks to date has been in the education market—where they’ve recently proven to be very useful for learn-at-home applications—but the rapidly evolving business app ecosystem does start to shift that story. It also doesn’t hurt that the big PC vendors (Dell, HP, and Lenovo) all have a line of business-focused Chromebooks. On top of that, we’re starting to see some interesting innovations in Chromebook form factors, with options ranging from basic clamshells to convertible 2-in-1s.

The bottom line is that as companies continue to adapt their IT infrastructure to support our new workplace realities, there are a number of very interesting potential second-order effects that may result from quickly adapting to a more cloud-focused world.. While we aren’t likely to move to the kind of completely cloud-dependent vision that used to be posited as the future of computing, it’s clear that we are on the brink of what will undoubtedly be some profound changes in how, and with what tools, we all work.

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Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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