As the saying goes, if all what you have is a hammer, everything you see is going to look like a nail. This phenomena is most prevalent with people who pick the technology they are most familiar with and try to apply it to every problem they face and with the new circumstances of COVID19 those same people happen to attempt to use the same approach to resolve a fully new problem set that was introduced by this new pandemic.
COVID19 had brought upon us a whole host of new problems, I’m sure you are all aware of but it’s still worthwhile to detail some of them for the sake of argument. Government enforced (for our own sake) social distancing, physical businesses closure and limited travel if any to say the least. And depending on where you are living, the list might actually be extended due to logistical issues caused the mass disruption of facilities around the world.
It would be wishful thinking if the answer to the current problem would be, let’s go to the cloud, period. However in the real world, it would be naive to assume that the answer would come this easy to us. Cause you see, this assumption comes entailed with so many questions such as, which cloud service provider? Which kind of cloud service i.e. SaaS, PaaS or IaaS? Which architecture? What kind of security mechanisms? And as you go further, the more questions you are going to get to.
When talking to both technical and business people, It’s an intriguing observation that computer science fresh graduates entering the field ask the same question, business leaders do occasionally ask, “which technology?”. It’s apparent that there is some sort of information asymmetry among these people, cause the technical people are trying to anticipate what would the business leaders be interested in, while the same business leaders are struggling to pick a technology from a plethora of options out there while ensuring that they would be able to find enough people that master it. So I used to give a universal advice for both business and technical people, the technology doesn’t really matter, it’s what you do with it that does.
Imagine if you will, that pharmaceutical companies advertised their prescription medications directly to consumers in the super market and there was no need for a prescription to purchase them. If people simply started to purchase them based on what the label says, a life saving medicine for one man might become a poison that brings on the demise of another. The medicine field is so complicated hence you would need a physician to judge based on their experience the pros and cons of each medicine per case by case. luckily for us, the technical field is not as complex, so with the right knowledge you might be able to pick the right business saving technology.
A lot of businesses had already made their choices and done their investments and most of them are reaping the rewards today as the rest are struggling to cope with the new circumstances. But, assuming you had not made your choices till now, the race is not lost yet and by picking the right technology for your specific case, you may not just save your business but make gains as well.
You see, in order to determine which technology to go for, you need to understand first the root cause of the problem. In order to do so, let’s give it it’s proper name, information asymmetry. it’s when there is a gap between supply and demand, a similar gap of information like the one I highlighted earlier between business and technical people caused by mismatching information sets or lack of it. How so? well, you see, if you offer a certain good or service you need to advertise it some how and by doing so you are providing information for potential demand i.e. your customers. Before COVID19, this could be simply achieved by having your physical business premises in a key area with traffic, which didn’t just offer the logistical convenience but also delivered awareness to your customers about your business existence and brand.
The physical premises didn’t just offer customer awareness, but also provided your business with a central point of coordination so you can coordinate your efforts to achieve your business goals and in order to coordinate, you need also to communicate information among your people as well. This single point of communication had now became your single point of failure, thanks to COVID19, an engineering term which basically means that you had no plan B in case of you were forced to shutdown your premises, which is exactly what is happening now to many businesses. So now lots of businesses are deprived of their brick and mortar physical locations and hence deprived of direct on site customer interactions as well as ability to coordinate due to the sudden disruption of information flow.
In order to understand the different technical options, we need also to give it its proper name, “Information Management Systems”, you see, the information technology is all about storing, processing and distributing information. For your business, a customer record is a piece of information, an order is another piece of information and an employee payslip is also another one. When you buy a business “App”, you are basically buying an information management system, and “App” is a cute shorthand for an “information management business application”. Which you apply to solve a business problem.
So after setting down the fundamentals of what is the problem at hand we are trying to solve, why it’s happening and what is the category of solution options available to us in order to maintain information flow back and forth with customers. Like a medicine to your business, every technical solution have different characteristics and you as its physician, since you understand your business the most, are going to prescribe the medicine based on its desired characteristics. Let’s now detail the aspects of the current information asymmetry problem we are trying to treat to better diagnose it and prescribe the most suitable medicine. We are dealing with uncertainty of future, ambiguity of requirements and urgency of situation. So our medicine/technical solution needs to be agile to accommodate for future changes, scalable to adapt with demand bursts (without costing you a fortune) and rapid acting to quickly respond to the current urgency.
With this knowledge in mind, this basically means if you can alter an existing on premises technology to resume operations while satisfying these requirements then you are all set and you need not to go on cloud. However if this was not the case, which is most likely due to logistical challenges and hardware limitations, you will need to find these characteristics in any cloud service provider(s) in addition to any other characteristic you might deem required as per your business and as per your specific business case, say for example response time, throughput and capacity, which can be unique, so don’t be tempted to copy other businesses’ solutions because it’s popular. Like the medicine, what might work out for others might not work out for you.
Let’s put this into more practical guidelines, say for example, the fast acting characteristic. This basically means you need rapid deployment to business operations, if you will need to build it then it’s going to take time which would be unfit for the current situation, so you can go ahead an eliminate options like PaaS and IaaS from your option list and focus more on SaaS solutions. Because of the uncertainty of future, your technical solution must be able to absorb changes with no much cost or time so investing in a naturally complex system built for comprehensive operations with all bells and whistles might not be a good idea regardless of how attractive it is, at least for now. And, if you go for a SaaS solution you might want to check on things like customization capabilities with No Code/ Low Code in order to be able to quickly respond to changes and not have a technical barrier between your business domain experts and the to-be information management system. This doesn’t mean you won’t face limitations, but at least you would be aware of them as you trade off the characteristics of your technical solution.
In the end I would like to conclude by saying technology is just tools and means to an end, same like flint knives and fire which helped our humankind to survive till date, and will continue to do so given that we correctly use the tools available to us today. there is no best or right tool without context and as a business leader, with this knowledge in mind, you are better suited to provide the context and based on it you would pick the right tool/technology, and not the other way around. So you would sustain your business during the upcoming changes of how the market operates after COVID19.