The Cloud is coming.. really!

A recent article in an Irish newspaper reported on a ‘stramash’ (Scottish for ‘bust up’; I don’t know the Irish equivalent but I’m sure it’ll be something similar) in the council chambers of a small county in the south of Ireland.

The head of business development was being castigated as an ‘Eejit’ (no explanation necessary, I trust) for suggesting that the council should invest heavily in cloud computing. His reasoning was simple as he explained to fellow councillors, “This county is covered in clouds for most of the year so there’s not much investment needed and it’s also going to raise our environmental credentials with the green lobby!”

Now, I will swear to you that I did indeed find this on a BBC news website, I bookmarked it and I sent the link to a few friends including, unsurprisingly, a very good Irish friend who works in IT. He scoffed that it could not possibly be true and then triumphantly emailed that, having tried the link, it didn’t work. Sure enough, when I did as well, the story had been pulled. So, someone somewhere had managed to fool the BBC. Shame, but what a great story though.

When it comes to cloud, I’ve not been as great an advocate as our Irish friend (see past posts) having spent much of my time dismissing the annual hardy perennial IT industry story that ‘This is the Year of the Cloud’, particularly as it relates to accounting software. However, shock horror, I do think we may actually be getting there.

Why?  Firstly, because the software industry wants it to happen and when the big boys decide this is the way forward for you and me, they generally get their way – eventually. It has taken longer than they would have hoped but I shall quote that old mantra ‘It’s the economy stupid’ by way of explanation. Slowly but surely, as the recession weighs over us, users are waking up to the fact that they can avoid upfront costs, expensive IT staff and constantly trying to manage upgrades, backups, anti-virus etc by shifting to a cloud model. And, so long as the costs per user per month keep falling, that shift will build into larger and larger numbers.

To date, the major take up has been in the less than 5 users sector where many are abandoning their old Sage solutions and either adopting Sage’s own cloud-based software or defecting to a number of lesser known newcomers who are under-cutting Sage. Those newcomers often have the advantage of offering a solution that was built exclusively for the web and is simpler to use. They have also been designed to overcome many of the pitfalls that arise from logging in to a system that’s remotely located who knows where. And, the final nail in the old guard’s coffin, many have a ready-made converter that takes your existing Sage data and painlessly transfers it to your new cloud solution.

What will bring along the new wave of larger users is similar price competitiveness and both Microsoft and the hosting companies appear to be recognising this. So, when users can buy a Microsoft Dynamics solution such as NAV (‘Navision’ in old money) for similar prices to the new kids on the cloud block, and combine it with a range of integrated and compatible Microsoft software, then we have a game changer. Later this year, NAV2013 is launched, and a huge amount of time, effort and Microsoft’s dollars has gone into ensuring this is a comfortable web experience. Add to the mix products such as Office 365 and CRM online, which integrate to NAV, and we have a very rich web experience on our hands.

Meantime, the hosting companies in the UK are also embracing the commercial realities of the situation by offering prices that reflect a sincere desire to see that this may yet be the year of the cloud. Indeed, one or two software resellers who dived in a little too early and had their fingers burned have abandoned their own hosting environments and signed up with the major hosting companies, it being so much more cost-effective.

So, a reality check, a recession, a desire to play catch up in a market that’s running away from them and a desire to establish a long and healthy pipeline of regular payments have all combined to offer larger accounting software users a more compelling proposition. When Microsoft launches NAV2013 later this year, expect to see a major step change in the number of users adopting the cloud platform.

As the kids used to say “Are we there yet?” Not quite but it is coming ever closer.