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Cloudy with a Chance of Revenue

Here’s how cloud-based innovations are driving better customer experiences

Adapted with permission from 1to1 Media.

Cloud computing is transforming how companies do business by providing cost-efficient, on-demand data resources. Companies are increasingly investing in cloud technologies, which include infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as service (SaaS) solutions.

The SaaS segment alone is expected to exceed $130 billion in global revenues by 2020, according to Forrester Research. And, IDC predicts 11 percent of IT budgets will shift away from traditional in-house IT delivery toward cloud delivery models by 2016. At the same time, organizational leaders continue to develop innovative ways to drive improved business results through the cloud, in part, by delivering better customer experiences.

Cloud 2.0

A few years ago, it was common for organizational leaders to debate the value of cloud-based solutions. But those days are in the past, maintains Forrester Research analyst Liz Herbert. “Decades of fighting the cloud are over,” says Herbert. “The cloud has become the first approach for most solutions, and in some cases, it’s the only approach. Now, it’s more about deciding which type of cloud—public, private, hybrid, etc.—makes sense for a company’s needs.”

Businesses from startups to global organizations are creating cloud-based ecosystems to gain speed, scalability, real-time collaboration, and deliver better customer experiences. But they’re not stopping there. Enterprises are beginning to move from primarily using cloud-based technology for tactical point solutions or for cost savings to driving improved business results and innovation, Herbert adds.

"One of the amazing things the cloud provides is the ability to assimilate data that was once confined to proprietary systems"

Sean Carithers, vice president of enterprise solutions at TeleTech

The cloud’s ability to collect and share data across different platforms provides business leaders access to a deeper pool of insights while enabling them to make faster decisions, among other benefits. “One of the amazing things the cloud provides is the ability to assimilate data that was once confined to proprietary systems, making the concept of interconnectivity so much easier than it used to be in the past,” notes Sean Carithers, vice president of customer experience solutions at TeleTech.

The true value of a cloud-based ecosystem is not the cloud architecture itself, Carithers notes, but in the power of the connections available through a cloud ecosystem. An ecosystem with thousands of touchpoints is much more useful than an ecosystem with limited partners and fewer touchpoints.

Physicians, for example, have limited insights into their patients’ health unless they are able to connect a patient’s medical record with clinical and lab results and other sources of information. And even then, it can be time-consuming for physicians and their assistants to manage and update medical records.

A possible solution is for physicians and hospitals to aggregate data from electronic health records to get a comprehensive understanding of a patient’s health and receive richer analytics reporting. “Better access to individualized healthcare data by doctors, nurses, and other clinicians will ultimately translate into improved patient care while streamlining workflow, minimizing administrative costs, and reducing potential patient care risks due to medication and medical errors,” notes Dr. Dominic Mack, executive medical director for Georgia Health Connect (GaHC) and co-director with the National Center for Primary Care at Morehouse School of Medicine.

GaHC is building an interconnected health information exchange to provide smaller practices, hospitals, and health systems with greater access to electronic health information. Such an approach is challenging though, Mack notes.

The adoption process is slow-going, Mack admits, as only a handful of hospitals and independent practices have joined the organization so far. “We’re just starting out and we still have to do quite a bit of selling to get providers on board with this idea, some of whom are still using paper records,” Mack says. “Our vision is to have numerous small practices continue to work independently, but by joining the HIE [health information exchange], they’ll have access to a lot more information and analytics reporting than they would have by themselves.”

Shopping in the Cloud

E-commerce is another area that is greatly influenced by cloud computing. Thanks to cloud-based e-commerce applications, retailers can track inventory across their stores and websites from a central database and rapidly respond to market changes.

Cloud computing also enables the latest craze in e-commerce: in-context “buy buttons.” Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and Google are each experimenting with capabilities that allow consumers to make purchases directly from a site or an ad without being sent to another website.

We can expect to see further innovations in e-commerce that are driven by the cloud as merchants strive to provide seamless and immersive customer experiences. Doing so requires making various types of data and analytics accessible across an organization—something that cloud-based technology specializes in, observes Joe Weinman, author of Cloudonomics: The Business Value of Cloud Computing “One of the clearest ways in which the cloud can help is by enabling better user experiences for customers in e-commerce,” Weinman says. “[For example] you can do that through immersive experiences and letting customers order items from their phone. All the content and inventory management comes from the cloud.”

Who Owns the Data?

There’s no question that cloud computing allows companies to collect and analyze a limitless amount of data that they can then use to deliver better customer experiences. But as companies and their partners find more uses for customer data, questions continue to arise about who ultimately owns the data and who is responsible for keeping it secure.

“Customers are becoming more concerned about their privacy and the data that is collected about them,” says John Lucker, principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP.

For instance, insurance companies are increasingly including data generated from telematic devices which record a person’s driving behavior to help calculate coverage estimates. “Customers are building up a credible data set and want to share that data with other insurers,” Lucker notes. “However, this data is typically considered the property of the business. But customers are beginning to ask, ‘Why isn’t this my property?’”

Furthermore, consumers don’t always see the value in sharing personal information with merchants. Shoppers at a grocery store that sign up for a loyalty card “usually receive generic coupons that take a few dollars off in exchange for allowing the store to make money off them [through advertising],” Lucker says.

If customers are going to continue sharing their user data and personal information, they need to see a greater value exchange. Companies must take a strategic approach to the data and use it before the data becomes stale, says Lucker. The first rule of thumb is “to think through your data and make sure it’s in a harmonized form,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, just useful enough to start finding patterns and making decisions with it.”

Even if a campaign or project doesn’t deliver desirable results, it’s important to learn from failures as well. “What people don’t realize is that many techniques have inherent imperfections but if you’re going to measure success by working on something for months until it’s perfect, you’re creating a curve of diminishing returns,” Lucker says. ““There’s a lot of fear in failure and the cost of that failure but companies need to move past that.”

Indeed, cloud technologies offer numerous opportunities to deliver better customer experiences, but it’s up to companies to seize upon those ideas and be truly innovative.