Cloud Strategy: implications for the Help Desk?

One topic I’ve had in mind recently was whether a move toward adopting cloud-oriented IT will have any impact on the support team on the typical organization’s IT help desk, and whether our own HelpDesk product will need to develop new functionality.

Attending the 451 Group’s recent conference on hosting and cloud transformation in London was an excellent opportunity to hear views from hosting vendors, assorted experts, and a good handful of end-user organizations. (Why not get the Vegas event in the diary?)

Cloud – integration a barrier for a while yet

Overall it was clear that a transition to cloud-dominated IT was going to be a long slog. The main barriers to adoption were generally cited as concerns over security, vendor lock-in, and integration. One end-user had just four main applications, and no idea how he was going to get them to collaborate if they were all pushed off-premise and into the cloud. Another had over 2,000 applications, and no expectation of getting any more than a handful pushed out into the cloud in the foreseeable future. (I’d like to share some thoughts another day on integration.) But both were committed to developing a cloud strategy for their organizations – they’d been told to.

Cloud – commoditization of computing?

The association of cloud computing with the notion of ‘commoditization’ referred mainly to the ease with which the demand for an application could be turned on and off like a light switch. It would have been useful to have had presentations from some vendors faced with augmenting their current on-premise Windows-based apps with browser-based versions suitable for simple hosting – to enable them to claim to be contributing to the cloud movement. (I’m assuming here that full IaaS and PaaS will both take a while to win many converts.)

Will cloud apps be any easier to use?

Fully converting a feature-rich Windows or Mac application, with extensive right click functionality for example, into a Web variant, must be a scary, expensive and disruptive proposition. Faced with uncertain demand for hosted variants of their products, I suspect that many vendors will begin by offering dumbed down versions ready for hosting.

Does ‘dumbed down’ automatically mean ‘easier to use’ and ‘easier to support’? Fewer opportunities for users to screw up with the complex functionality that we get in everyday apps such as MS Word – we might think that will make life easier on the help desk. But poor design and poor development could easily negate that.

Support costs in the cloud computing cost model?

One thing became apparent – there’s little thought been given yet to the support element, whether the help desk load is going to increase for a while during transition to cloud-sourced computing, then ease off; or whether it will stay essentially the same. I haven’t seen any cost models yet for cloud computing strategies that cover the help desk, and would value any pointers to work done on this.

It would be interesting to know how your help desk staff view the on-premise Windows and Mac apps they support, versus the hosted products such as Salesforce, assorted collaboration offerings, and the hosted ERP offerings from the likes of JDE and SAP.