Tipping points: the Social Aspect of Cloud Computing

Many people already know the book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.” According to the author Malcolm Gladwell, tipping points are “the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.” He defines the term as sociological and uses it to explain sociological epidemics.

Three Rules of Epidemics

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In his book, Gladwell laid out the “three rules of epidemics” as follows:

1) The Law of the Few.
“The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” The author categorized people into Connectors who link us up with the world; Mavens who are “people we rely upon to connect us with new information;” and Salesmen who are charismatic persuaders.

2) The Stickiness Factor
The specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable.

3) The Power of Context
Human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment.

Although the research comes from sociology, I think it applies to technology as well. After all, technology is social. Just think about social networks like Facebook, and the recent success of Apple’s iPad.

If you want your technology to be a huge success, you cannot ignore its social side story. In the end, it is human beings who make decisions regarding any technology adoption or product purchase.

Two Tipping Points

Cloud computing has become a buzzword. It has also climbed the CIO’s priority list from near the bottom to second place in a recent survey. While we’ve made huge progress in terms of marketing, we haven’t yet seen the tipping point of cloud computing in reality.

Unlike the Hush Puppies shoes discussed in the book, technologies like cloud computing are far more expensive to adopt and and they require much more expertise than buying a pair of shoes.

This uniqueness of cloud computing results in an interesting phenomenon – two tipping points. The first tipping point is with marketing. As an industry, we are pretty good at creating buzz around new technologies. No other industry is as eager as high tech to embrace the “next big thing.”

The second tipping point is with adoption in production. It may or may not come after the first tipping point. After the first tipping point, people may give cloud computing a try with pilot projects. At this tipping point, it becomes absolutely critical that the technology brings real vale to businesses or adoption dies.

There are examples in technology where the second tipping point arrived and then reversed due to the absence of sufficient value to businesses. One of the best examples in my opinion was the EJB (Enterprise Java Bean). It was widely adopted but then faded away. It failed to deliver sufficient value.

Tipping points for Cloud Computing

With so many people talking about cloud computing, we obviously have achieved the first tipping point from marketing perspective. We haven’t yet seen massive adoption through a second tipping point however.

Where will businesses find sufficient value in cloud computing? Cost saving is definitely one, but for sure not the only one. As hardware cost keeps dropping, capital spending on servers may be less a concern for most businesses in the future. They would look for flexibility, control, and growth from cloud computing. These kinds of value will be driven by people if we look at the three rules of social epidemics from a technology perspective. At the second tipping point for cloud computing, breakthrough adoption is now up to the connectors, mavens, and sales people.

With many companies and organizations in the cloud movement, we will for sure have many connectors, mavens, and salespersons who may have different understandings of cloud computing, and different agendas due to company interests. We need to collaborate effectively with each other for the bigger goal: showing real world values to the customers. Only then we will see the second tipping point that we all look forward to.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted August 25, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Right on point – this requires a lot of advocacy and education about the process and business value (much more important than talking about our own products). It boils down to “how can I execute for my business more efficiently with flexibility and become more virtual and transparent” and NOT about “wow this is cool technology”. If the curve tips in favor of cloud computing we’ll stop calling it that and simply see wider adoption and awareness.

  2. jodie_microsoft_smb
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    I think wider adoption can result from available training and tools as well as familiarity with commonly used applications. Microsoft CRM Online, as an example, has a look and feel like Outlook – users can work directly out of Outlook if they prefer. You get online training and can refer to the CRM Online Video Gallery to see an expert go through the processes and explain what they’re doing so can learn. If you find that ROI would be achieved with an in-house solution, you can also move your data on-premise without any termination fees.

    Regards,
    Jodi E.
    Microsoft SMB Outreach Team
    msftoft@microsoft.com

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