I am going to be moderating a panel on the opportunities for publishing in cloud computing on November 19th - more to come on that - so needless to say my head is in the cloud (computing) to some degree already. But when Microsoft announces a major initiative to adapt its Windows operating system for cloud computing for Amazon's web services platform you know that the balance of power is shifting away from enterprise servers faster than you might think. This is great news for network services providers and potentially good news for Microsoft, whose desktop Windows operating system is becoming ever more ponderous and is being readied for a crash diet. The bottom line from a technology perspective is that we're returning to the days of complex technology being "out there" in the network and user-oriented technology being oriented away from general computing and towards serving up content from network services.
The move towards cloud computing may seem rather "back to the future" in some ways for those of us who lived through the days of mainframe computing and (really) dumb terminals, but when did it really make sense for companies to have thousands of dollars of over-complex content and software on people's desks in the first place? The network is the natural place for most content services to live, making it far easier for peers to communicate and collaborate with one another as publishers and to provide them with the ability to benefit from sophisticated services with a minimum of in-your-face technology hassles. This is no surprise to publishers that are succeeding with the move to online digitual publishing services, but it does pose an issue for content and technology companies that had been focused on enterprise sales.
In recent years much of the "value-add" component for sophisticated enterprise content services and the technologies that support them has revolved around tailored software and information services based on integration with enterprise I.T. platforms. The early enterprise entrants in cloud computing such as Salesforce.com's network-based services have strong participation from many enterprises, but the big push for margins has positioned many enterprise content providers towards strategic sales that involve I.T. teams in major companies. Cloud sales were an investment in the future, to be sure, but present revenues were focused behind the firewalls of enteprise publishing clients oftentimes.
Clearly the rapid acceleration of enteprise-oriented I.T. services towards network services available via highly scalable Web infrastructure is going to put more and more pressure on this line of marketing for high-end enterprise publishers. Web services, which enable publishers to integrate their content easily and rapidly with other content via standardized programming techniques, are flourishing in cloud computing environments, enabling user-defined "mix and match" content services intergrated into a wide variety of platforms and productivity tools. This is good news for publishers who want to get their content up and running as quickly and as easily as possible in enterprise-oriented applications - but bad news for publishers who wanted to sell people on the idea that doing so was really expensive and hard.
The go0d news for enterprise publishers is that cloud computing is likely to spawn a widening breed of tailored content applications that can be deployed more rapidly and efficiently. Long and risky product development cycles for advanced publishers are likely to give way to general frameworks for cloud-enabled content applications that will have easily tailored core functions that can be changed to meet individual client needs more rapidly. In the process of doing so, many major aggregators may begin to look at what their real core strengths need to be, leaving some likely to look further and further afield for just the right content sources to aggregate as needed for specific client applications. Instead of focusing on database curation, it's more likely that tomorrow's major enterprise publishers will be focused on Web services curation, being experts in assembling just the right content from any number of databases and Web sources that meet their clients' needs.
While in many instances existing staff skill sets will be transferable to the cloud computing environment, I expect that more than a few of the major publishers are ill prepared for the cultural leaps required to survive and to thrive as content services experts in cloud computing. We're all familiar with the reogranizations that have been the focus at major enterprise publishers such as LexisNexis that are aimed at blasting away very I.T.-centric product development cultures in favor of more client-centric cultures. What happens when the Web services-centric model of cloud computing impels these companies to accelerate the culture change for their core revenue lines that much more quickly? There are great opportunities for major publishers in the shift to network-oriented enterprise services, but I suspect that more than one five-year plan may be floating out their H.Q. office windows shortly as the depth of the impact of cloud computing services on the enterprise content industry becomes more clear to them.