cloud icon with design on blue sky backgroundRemember the good old days when everyone that can switch on a computer is called a computer expert and all the big technology companies come calling?  Well, those days are long gone after the .com bubble burst.  If you want to keep your job in any IT domain, you will already know that your skill set must be up to date.  Remember when they told you that being a Java programmer will mean having a job for life?  Now you are told that you need to learn web programming.  You did that and now someone came along and tell you about the cloud and that all future jobs will require that you know how to perform your magic in the cloud.  So is the future in the cloud?

The question really is not about being able to make things happen in the cloud within the scope of a IaaS, PaaS or SaaS.  It is more about separating the hype from reality.  It is reported that over a million IT related jobs cannot be filled because employers could’t find skilled employees to fill the roles.  This is interesting when big technology groups release a survey like that.  There is often a hype behind the propaganda.  No matter how you cut it, cloud services are not very different from what most IT professional already do.  If you already know how to run a VMware on-premise, there is no reason why you will need a PhD to perform something similar in the cloud.  The same thing goes for software installation and network administration.

You need to understand that cloud software vendors have a vested interesting in generating a lot of excitement about cloud services.  The same goes for training companies who want to sell their latest training kits to you so that you can be on you way to earning 6 figures.

That is not to say that there is no real demand for cloud skills.  However, the above does highlight how data can be interpreted in different ways.  Every cloud vendor implements its infrastructure differently which makes it difficult to build a unified training that will be beneficial to most IT professionals.  If you take the example in the networking world, Cisco certifications are the defacto standard.  When it comes to Linux operating systems, taking a Redhat certification is the way to go.  The same can be said for Microsoft certification.  Does the same exist for the cloud?  What you will often find are generic certifications which will not prepare you for the real world.

The best approach to anyone willing to work in the cloud is to learn by practice.  You can create an Amazon EC2 account and pay a modest fee to learn how to create an AMI, start and interact with instances, link your instance to Elastic IP addresses, connect to the instance using SSH and more.  You can also do the same with Microsoft Azure or Google Compute Engine.

The skills needed to work in the cloud are similar to what you need to work in most IT environment, don’t follow the hype.

When a big brand like Microsoft announces an acquisition, there is often a lot of speculation about what their final intentions are.  When Microsoft acquired Skype, there was a lot of talk about the Redmond company trying to compete in the telecommunications world and maybe indirectly take Windows mobile to the next level.

This time around, what does Microsoft have in mind when it acquired Parature?  Like any form of takeover in the technology world, it is all about gaining access to a particular knowledge bases, customer base and a bigger market share.  The name of the game is letting someone else do the leg work and improving time to market at a faster rate.  In the case of Parature, the company has been a partner of Microsoft for some time and an acquisition not a complete surprise.

Parature is a small company that competes with Giants like and Oracle in the SaaS (Software as a Service) customer service business.  It is probably easier and cheaper to assimilate Parature and gain access to its user base than to get closer to a behemoth like Salesforce.  Microsoft plan is to integrate Parature’s offerings into it’s current CRM Dynamic system. This will be much easier and faster given the size of Parature.  That said, paying about $100M is likely a bargain but that will depend on the ROI Microsoft expects to derive from the purchase.

Acquisitions are a great way to grow quickly.  That said, things can also go wrong.  eBay for example acquired Skype and had to let go after it discovered that it wasn’t a good fit for their core business.

Why is Parature a Good Fit for Microsoft?

Customer support and service is expensive and can be a deal breaker for businesses that do not have the means to provide such services to their customer base.  What Parature offers is a way to reduce the cost of customer support by automating as much as possible the process of getting appropriate information. Think about having an internal search engine like Google where you can search for relevant information about a given product you have purchased.  How much can a company save if customers can get what they want from your knowledge base without having to make a phone call or send an email to Customer Support?

What if a client of your company is not happy and decides to complain about your product on social media?  What if you could take that complaint and turn it into a customer support call and provide an answer to solve the problem in your knowledge base?

You can easily see the potential for better user experience and customer support from these features. The world is changing and access to fast, accessible solution is what most customers desire.  Being able to monitor and manager all these from a single system does not only save time but can also save money.

These are some of the features that Parature provides with it’s CRM.  That is why Microsoft initially partnered with the company before going for a full takeover.

ERP, Enterprise Resource PlanningWhen you talk about a finding a solution to a situation or a problem, some will answer, “There is an app for that!”  Can the same be said of enterprise software solutions?  The amount of software applications destined for the enterprise market is staggering.  The ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software is the cash cow of many big names in technology.  That said, like with every good thing, there comes a time when you have to admit that your product is coming to the end of its life cycle.  That is when most software houses start to look for ways to open up new market for their ERP.  What about moving to the cloud?  That is a good question but you will first need to consider what companies do with their on-premise ERP solutions.

Large corporations will use ERP solutions to monitor their core business and gather real-time information for business analysis.  This is often seen in bigger companies and that can also explain the cost of purchasing these software.  On the other hand, what about small to medium size enterprise?  Often small entities do not see the benefit of spending thousand of dollars in resource planning because a lot of things can still be done manually and the amount of data available is limited.  It is also easier to pay an external party to come in and perform an ad-hoc analysis as required.  Microsoft Dynamics tend to market their ERP towards those small and medium enterprise users.  The difficult task for most vendors is convincing potential customers that they actually do need the software and that the information gathered can lead to greater Return On Investment.  Large enterprise do see the need for a company wide resource planning solution but they also have to deal with the cost of implementing a SAP or Oracle based solution.  This is a dilemma that most software vendors are now facing and that is one of the many reasons why the cloud is appearing to be a better place to do business.

ERP in the Cloud

Why would you want to offer ERP in the cloud in the first place?  If customers cannot afford it on-premise would the cloud change their mind about SaaS?  What is the added value of implementing an ERP solution in the cloud?  What about security?

With the US government accused of spying, security is a big issue for big companies who might want to keep sensitive information from prying eyes.  The biggest players in the ERP world are American companies, ranging from Infor, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft.  Security considerations are a big concern and the big vendors will need to convince potential customers that their data is safe.

Another consideration to take into account is cost.  Will buying an all in one SaaS solution be more cost effective?  Yes and no.  Like most people running a cloud solution, the initial price is often attractive but as your traffic grows and you require more processing power, you might find that the expected savings will quickly dry up.  That said, for those who want to give ERP a test drive to see if it fits their needs before going down the road of a full implementation, the cloud is a stepping stone.  If you don’t like what you see or you are not impressed, all you have to do is stop your subscription and move on.

Finally, ERP in the cloud will not replace on-premise solutions but it will give those still standing on the fence a choice that might lead to better things.