How can emerging markets benefit from cloud computing?
The cloud computing buzzword has been floating around for a number of years now, and can now be considered mainstream both in the consumer and enterprise space, in the computing world in any case.
For emerging markets to benefit from cloud computing, however, a similar dynamic is going to be required in the mobile space, and key to driving uptake is going to be the increased availability of mobile services.
Cloud computing refers to shifting data, services and hardware from, for instance, a company’s premises or dedicated data centre, onto an external platform, often shared, and accessed via the internet. A great example is Google Docs: instead of having Word installed on your personal computer, you access it via a browser when you require it.
Although cloud computing had been touted as the next big thing for the past five to six years it needed a critical mass of desktop users for it to really take off in the developed world and so allow companies to truly take advantage of the benefits. The same is true in emerging markets, however, with the bulk of internet access taking place via mobile phones, it is going to be more compelling mobile services that will drive increased customer numbers and traffic volumes, at which point, the benefits of cloud computing really come to the fore.
The benefits of cloud computing include:
- The flexibility to provision more resources as more users come onboard, and then scale back during quieter times. For instance an e-commerce provider can easily add more servers to provide more capacity during the Christmas season or a major promotion and then scale back when traffic volumes return to normal. Importantly, cloud computing allows users to quickly and easily scale down resources during quieter periods to avoid paying for unnecessary infrastructure, perhaps overnight when a call centre is quieter. Previously, with dedicated resources, companies would have had to risk expensive resources standing idle when not required, or risk not being able to cope with demand during busy periods.
- The ability to self-provision means that cloud services can be activated and de-activated at the click of a mouse, rather than via a laborious procurement process and then a wait for hardware to be shipped and installed if necessary. This allows companies to be far more responsive to internal and customer requirements.
Cloud computing has an impact across the board, from large companies provisioning massive servers around the world, to smaller companies and individuals using Google Applications for web hosting, email, collaboration and office software, or Skype for video conferencing, at a fraction of the cost of what these services have previously cost.
With mobile uptake being the key to unlocking cloud computing in the developing world, there is a massive opportunity for mobile developers to deliver both enterprise and consumer services that will catalyse cloud computing in emerging markets, and then to benefit from this growth. But to get this right, developers and companies need to get services out in a compelling way across a diverse set of devices.
Irrespective of the mobile device being used, from entry-level java-based handset through feature phones to high-end smartphones it is necessary to deliver users the best user experience in order to achieve the required growth in the market. High-end users can’t be expected to settle for a less than optimum experience, but at the same time, especially in developing markets, feature phones and even more basic handsets are still going to be prolific and these customers will need to be catered for as well.
As well as user-experience, security and data integrity is vital, both to give users confidence in cloud computing and to cater for the fact that data access and services take place on a mobile device that can be lost or stolen.
Ultimately however, the opportunities and benefits as a result of cloud computing in emerging markets will be profound, with existing services being extended onto the internet-device most people have access to, and new services emerging both in the enterprise and consumer markets. Imagine filing an insurance claim in a remote area by sending a picture and completing claim forms via a mobile phone, or supply chains in areas with poor infrastructure being able to be automated for the first time. We’ve already seen how mobile banking has transformed the lives of the previously unbanked around the world.
But to get there though, developers and enterprises must pick up the baton and start delivering the most compelling mobile services across all devices in order to kickstart the cloud in emerging markets.
By Wilter du Toit, CEO of Virtual Mobile Technologies