What is the cloud? You’ll know it when you see it

What is the cloud? You’ll know it when you see it

OB10’s new Express Payments model is going to change fundamentally the way some businesses operate. It’s not just because it offers a means of extracting greater value from business transactions – Express Payments is not actually unique in that respect. It’s because it is amongst the first enterprise applications that can truly claim cloud credentials.

Purchasing Insight logoWe hear a great deal about cloud solutions but for the most part, especially in the B2B space, they are no such thing. It’s natural for software vendors to jump on marketing bandwagons. Cloud is where it’s at and there’s a number of big players who have staked some very high bets on it being with us for the long term. But taking an existing architecture and moving it from on-premise to a remote hosted version isn’t cloud. And neither is a web app or a web user interface? So what is the cloud and why does it matter?

Ask 100 people, even well informed experts, what the cloud is and you’ll get 100 different answers. Sure, there are some strict technical definitions. Salesforce and Coupa are excellent examples of enterprise applications that successfully use a cloud architecture but that doesn’t define cloud. The technical definitions become archaic almost immediately as enterprise computing evolves and they’re not helpful in explaining what the cloud really is.

The non-technical definitions range from those that describe the cloud as an abstraction for the complexity of a system – a vague definition that explains nothing – to sets of sexy sales buzzwords designed to distract from the mundane reality of a simple software solution.

Actually, you don’t need a definition of cloud to know what it is. You know it when you see it.

I was bought a Kindle recently. I already had a couple of eBooks. I was using the iPad Kindle App. I was thoroughly impressed with it. Lightweight, robust and a fantastic screen but what impressed me more than anything was when I used my Amazon account to register it. Not only were the books I already owned immediately on my new Kindle, they were open at the page I had left them. OK, I understand enough about the technology to know how this is achieved (it’s not really that complicated) but that isn’t the point. The point is that I didn’t need to understand any of the technology. All of the complexity of the infrastructure that delivered my eBooks open at the right page is hidden from view so that all I need to do is sit down and read my book. That’s cloud.

To understand cloud, understand electricity. If I want to turn on a light, I flick a switch. I don’t need to know how generators and transformers work. I just flick switches. That wasn’t always the case. In the 19th century, if you were wealthy enough, you might have electricity in your home but you’d have to understand its limitations. It was complicated. You’d be limited to the number of circuits you could have. (You’d have to understand what a circuit was!) And it was not unusual to have to turn one light off before you turned another on. Cloud is all about concealing the complexity of the infrastructure required to deliver a service – the stuff you don’t need, or want to know about. To get electricity, whether it’s from a wind turbine, or a coal fired power station to my light bulb, there are multiple transactions that take place between many disparate businesses, systems and technologies that I really don’t need to know about. Flick a switch. The light goes on. Enough said.

What has this to do with Express Payments and where are OB10’s cloud credentials? Express Payments is a highly sophisticated supply chain finance tool. It allows buyers and sellers to agree discounts in return for early settlement but, and this is key, without the buyer suffering any DPO impact. That’s amazing!

If you actually lift the lid on Express Payments you will see that the complexity of the infrastructure behind it is extremely impressive. It works for all buyers, whether they’re cash rich and are looking to utilize supply chain finance to get a better return on their cash or they don’t have cash reserves and simply want to take advantage of discounts. And it works for all suppliers too. There are no barriers to entry. Signing up for Express payments is easier than setting up a merchant account with a credit card company.

And that’s why Express Payments has the cloud credentials. It doesn’t fit the technical definitions of cloud in many respects but it offers everything a cloud solution is supposed to. It joins together many transactions, many businesses and many technologies in an almost impossibly complex network. But for the user, that’s all irrelevant because it just delivers. The supplier gets paid in days. The buyer gets a discount.

That’s cloud. You know it when you see it.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin

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