Making the Cloud Rain Business Productivity

As enterprises seek to exploit cloud computing, business leaders are focused on new productivity benefits. Yet the IT folks need to focus on the technology in order to propel those business solutions forward.

As enterprises confront cloud computing, they want to know what’s going to enable new and potentially revolutionary business outcomes. How will business process innovation — necessitated by the reset economy — gain from using cloud-based services, models and solutions?

It’s as if the past benefits of Moore’s Law, of leveraging the ongoing density of circuits to improve performance while also cutting costs, has now evolved to a cloud level, trying to (in the context of business problems) do more for far less.

Early examples of applying cloud to industry challenges, such as the recent GS1 Canada Food Recall Initiative, show that doing things in new ways can have huge payoffs.

We’ll learn here about the HP Cloud Product Recall Platform that provides the underlying infrastructure for the GS1 Canada food recall solution, and we will dig deeper into what cloud computing means for companies in the manufacturing and distribution industries and the “new era” of Moore’s Law.

Here to help explain the benefits of cloud computing and vertical business transformation, we welcome Mick Keyes, senior architect in the HP chief technology office. We are also joined by Rebecca Lawson, director of worldwide cloud marketing at HP. And we’re also joined by Chris Coughlan, director of HP’s Track and Trace Cloud Competency Center.

Listen to the podcast (33:39 minutes).

I’d like to start with Rebecca, if I could. Tell us a little bit about the cloud vision, as it is understood at HP. Where does this fit in, in terms of the business, the platform, and the tension between the technology and the business outcomes?

Rebecca Lawson: Sure, I’m happy to. Everyone knows that “cloud” is a word that tends to get hugely overused. Instead of talking specifically about cloud, at HP we try to think about what kinds of problems our customers are trying to solve, and what are some new technologies that are here now, or that are coming down the pike, to help them solve problems that currently can’t be solved with traditional business processing approaches.

Rather than the cloud being about just reducing costs, by moving workloads to somebody else’s virtual machine, we take a customer point of view — in this case, manufacturing — to say, “What are the problems that manufacturers have that can’t be solved by traditional supply chain or business processing the way that we know it today, with all the implicated integrations and such?”

That’s where we’re coming from, when we look at cloud services, finding new ways to solve problems. Most of those problems have to do with vast amounts of data that are traditionally very hard to access by the kinds of application architectures that we have seen over the last 20 years.

Dana Gardner: So, we’re talking about a managed exposure of information, knowledge, and things that people need to take proper actions on. I’ve also heard HP refer to what they are doing and how this works as an “ecosystem.” Could you explain what you mean by that?

Lawson: As we move forward, we see that, different vertical markets — for example, manufacturing or pharmaceuticals — will start to have ecosystems evolve around them. These ecosystems will be a place or a dynamic that has technology-enabled services, cloud services that are accessible and sharable and help the collaboration and sharing across different constituents in that vertical market.

We think that, just as social networks have helped us all connect on a personal level with friends from the past and such, vertical ecosystems will serve business interests across large bodies of companies, organizations, or constituents, so that they can start to share, collaborate, and solve different kinds of issues that are germane to that industry.

A great example of that is what we’re doing with the manufacturing industry around our collaboration with GS1, where we are solving problems related to traceability and recall.

Gardner: So, for these members within the ecosystem, their systems alone cannot accomplish what having a third party or cloud-based platform can accomplish in terms of cooperation, collaboration, coordinated and managed, and even governed business processes.

Lawson: That’s right. In fact, I’ll throw it over to Mick to talk about how this is really different and really how it serves the greater purpose of the manufacturing community. Mick?

Mick Keyes: A good example is the manufacturing industry, and indeed the whole linear type supply chain that is in use. If you look at supply chains, food is a good example. It’s one of the more complicated ones, actually. You can have anywhere up to 15 to 20 different entities involved in a supply chain.

In reality, you’ve got a farmer out there growing some food. When he harvests that food, he’s got to move it to different manufacturers, processors, wholesalers, transportation, and to retail, before it finally gets to the actual consumer itself. There is a lot of data being gathered at each stage of that supply chain.

In the traditional way we looked at how that supply chain has traceability, they would have the infamous — I would call it — “one step up, one step down” exchange of data, which meant really that each entity in the supply chain exchanged information with the next one in line.

That’s fine, but it’s costly. Also, it doesn’t allow for good visibility into the total supply chain, which is what the end goal actually is.

What we are saying to industry at the moment — and this is our thesis here that we are actually developing — is that, HP, with a cloud platform, will provide the hub, where people can either send data or allow us to access data. What a cloud will do is aggregate different piece of information to provide value to all elements of the supply chain to give greater visibility into the supply itself.

Food is one example, but you’ve got lots of other examples in different industries — the pharmaceutical industry, of course. You’ve also got the aeronautical industry and the aerospace industry. It’s any supply chain that’s out there, Dana.

Gardner: Mick, you mentioned this hub and this platform. Is this just a blank canvas that these vertical industries can then come to and apply their needs or is there a helping hand, in addition to the strict technological fabric, that can apply some level of expertise and understanding into these verticals?

Keyes: If you look at the way we’re defining the whole ecosystem, as Rebecca referred to around cloud computing, we have the cloud-optimized infrastructure, which HP has got a great pedigree in. Then, we’re looking, from a platform point of view, at the next level. From this, we’ll launch the different specific services.

In that platform, for example, we’ve got the components to cover data, analytics, software management, security, industry-specific type information, and developer type offerings as well. So, depending on what type of industry you’re in, we’re looking at this platform as being almost a repeatable type of offering, and you can start to lay out individual or specific industry services around this.

Gardner: The reason I asked is that there are a number of prominent cloud providers nowadays who do seem to provide mostly a blank canvas. It’s very powerful. The cost benefits are there. It gives developers and architects something new to pursue, but there is not much in addition to the solution level there.

Keyes: When you offer or develop specific services and such for industry, you need a little bit more than being able to look at it from a technology point of view. Industry knowledge, we have found, is key, but also, when we talk to the businesses and each element of a supply chain — and food is a good example, because it’s global — there are different cultural influences involved, such as the whole area of understanding governance and data, where it can and cannot be stored.

Technology is obviously a very important part of it, but how we look at producing services and who can consume the services is equally important. Also, we see this type of initiative as stimulating a lot of new innovation. When we use our platform to create certain pockets of data, for use of a better word, we are looking at how we can mashup different type of services.

Some companies will come with a good idea. There are other partners, excellent partners, who are developing very specific and good applications. We will use this hub and our business knowledge, as well, to look at the creation of new types of services and the mashup of different services.

It allows us also to talk to the business people in different parts of the supply chain and different industries to look at very fast, creative ways of offering new services for their industry.

Gardner: Chris Coughlan, tell us a little bit about your competency center, how you started, and perhaps illustrate with an example how this technological knowledge and appreciation of the business issues come together?

Chris Coughlan: As follow-on from what Mick said, we have Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), we have Platform as a Service (PaaS), and we have Software as a Service (SaaS). And in the industry we’re told was that there was going to be everything as a service. But really nobody started defining what you meant beyond SaaS.

There were a lot of health scares and food scares over the last year or so. We looked at that and said. “This is a very good opportunity to actually develop everything as a service.”

We also came to the conclusion, which is very important, that there are two aspects of that. There has to be collaboration along all the various company supply chains, particularly if you want to recall something, or if you want to do track and trace. As well as that, there has to be standardization in what you are doing. So, that led to our relationship with GS1 and the development of the recall system.

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Follow Dana Gardner on Twitter. Disclosure: HP sponsored this podcast.

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