The cloud, it seems, might be a little bit like Palmolive’s tagline from its old TV commercials, people just don't know they’re soaking in it.
Despite huge investments in advertising on TV and on billboards, particularly in airports, survey after survey shows that when it comes right down to it, people just aren’t sure what this whole “cloud” thing is about.
The latest to weigh in on the issue, market research firm the NPD Group’s study of US consumers shows a major disconnect between the use of cloud-based services and understanding of them.
According to NPD, just 22 percent of consumers are familiar with the term "cloud computing". But more than three times that number (76 percent) reported "using some type of Internet-based cloud service in the past 12 months.” The numbers were not the different between those who identified themselves as computer-savvy, and those who said they were not on top of technology trends.
Although NPD’s survey is consumer-focused, it echoes the sentiments of other recent surveys that have shown small businesses don’t have a firm grip on what the cloud is, much less what it can offer their business. Clearly, there’s a great deal of cloud confusion out there, and it’s not being helped by all the dollars spent on ad-based boosterism. Sorry, Microsoft, “To the cloud!” is not resonating as a rallying cry.
Part of the problem is the cloudy definition used with the cloud. According to NPD’s numbers, the top consumer cloud applications include email, online gaming, tax preparation, photo and video sharing, office productivity, and backup and storage. Many of those were cloud long before it was called cloud, services like Hotmail and TurboTax were early concepts of applications that ran through the browser rather than natively on the desktop.
The definition issue is further muddied by cloudwashing, the habit of vendors and service providers to paint their offering as part of a new and exciting cloud world, to the point where anything connected to the Internet becomes “in the cloud."
Small business owners find themselves in the unenviable place of having to discern what is marketing hype and what can provide true business benefit. What else is new? For many, a solid definition of what cloud computing actually means can go a long way.
Armed with that understanding, and the concept that “cloud” is in many cases the new and improved marketing version of “new and improved,” business owners can put aside the hype and try to find the real cost benefit of cloud-based services versus their traditional on-site counterparts.
And in final analysis, that’s what makes or breaks a technology service for small business. Call it Internet or call it cloud, if it doesn’t drive a solid return on investment or solve a specific business pain, it’s a non-starter for small business.