Here's the secret of a great business. An idea that's hot, a market that's untapped and the right people to make it happen. But if you can't persuade the bean counters that the potential return on investment is worth the initial outlay, you'll never get out of the starting blocks. You'll have failed to meet the threshold of viability.
What does that mean for the new economy?
Ok, so maybe there's a way to go before the threshold of viability for a boutique hotel on Mars hits a sufficiently low point to get the green light. But for most business ideas, the online world has lowered barriers to entry considerably.
Traditionally, it's been the IT Department who've done a lot of tutting and headshaking whenever a new opportunity opens up. That's because of the onerous costs and commitment involved in putting together the technical infrastructure required to service a new operation. (Like having to commit to furnishing a whole house before you've even built it.) But cloud has changed that, in a stroke.
You just pay for the cloud you need: spinning it up when you've got a new big new order, needed yesterday, spinning it down when it looks like simmering down to a slow month. No problemo.
Here’s a bit more about businesses using cloud in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in the bad old days.
Big data and the customer experience challenge
Once upon a time, businesses talked at customers. Nowadays, customers respond (fast); rating their service, reviewing their products and maybe even making recommendations to their peers. Customers now move up and down, in and out of the buying funnel all the time.
What that means is that every customer experience engagement - every time you check in, log in, swipe your loyalty card or get another stamp on your coffee card - needs to be consistently positive and personalised. Otherwise, you'll just take your good money somewhere else. That's a huge business risk. It also means that a ton of data is being generated - all those swipes and stamps and goods hanging around tantalizingly unpurchased in your online shopping basket.
Luckily, smart companies are using the cloud - and the new, lower threshold of viability for delivering truly meaningful customer experience - to gather up all this 'big data'. Push more data up there, pull down what you need, analyse it, and then use it to drive a customer-centric business.
That's what's happening when a screen pops up telling the customer service agent that you like seat 8A, take your coffee black, are in the market for a new smartphone and might use that new credit card to pay for a weekend in Rome next month. And using the cloud to harness big data is part of the success of companies as diverse as Trip Advisor, ConTgo, Confused.com and notonthehighstreet.com.
Here's a plug for a service we really rate, just 'cos we like it. Hailo is a handy little app that sends a nearby black cab straight to you, with a pre-arrival text detailing the car and driver. It neatly eliminates the inefficiency between person-on-a-corner-hailing a cab and an idling cab a couple of streets away, waiting for a fare. But to make it work, both parties' location data needs to be shot into the cloud, matched in a moment and then it's hello, (hailo) taxi.
When it's home time, the cab's data is no longer collected, meaning that there's no question of virtual cabs clogging up the cloud. Very efficient. A simple solution to an annoying problem that would have been too unwieldy pre-cloud. It's the little brother to big cloud location-based services like FourSquare and Gowalla.
The beauty of the cloud (particularly if it's an open cloud) is how flexible it is. Our customers use it as a data lock-up, a temporary marquee, a house extension or a whole new home. Sometimes one after the other. We think that cloud is pretty much the magic carpet response to the viability threshold trapdoor. Want to try it, change it, stop it, chop it, build it, pause it, rethink it? With our cloud, you can.
So what's next? Whatever's next, it's going to be exciting. The app that uses your data held in the cloud to suggest what you may want for dinner, based on what's in your cupboard and what you usually eat on a Tuesday when you don't have tennis? The car manufacturer that really, really knows what you want? The smart, start-up coffee stall around the corner that gets your macchiato on as soon as you leave the house? Watch this space.