This is my favorite quote regarding technology and history: “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. It ended because we invented bronze tools, which were more productive.”
Generally attributed to a former oil minister in Saudi Arabia, Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, this quote highlights the connection between the supply and use of any given resource. Originally delivered as a warning to oil-producing countries overly dependent on petrodollars, the quote is often used in other conversations where underlying resource and technology shifts are underway.
I thought about this quote a few weeks ago when a systems integration partner called to discuss the growing interest in cloud solutions from his on-premises customers. The partner was a bit upset and confused about this rapidly changing attitude.
“There is still talent and experience that does on-premises work. And servers are getting cheaper and faster. The on-premises equipment is plentiful. Lots of software has been written for on-prem systems.”
He dumped a lengthy list.
Yes, I agreed when he stopped. Lots of stones.
But, just as humans left behind stones for bronze and subsequently other metals, the same is true of today’s departure from the last century paradigm of on-premises business software.
Small and medium businesses today are embracing cloud systems. The chasm between stones and metals is a perfect metaphor for this century’s technology transformation from on-premises to cloud applications.
The reason for this major change is simple. It is all about productivity.
With cloud solutions including finance, HR, customer experience and Platform as a Service (PaaS), companies no longer spend endless funds chasing software upgrades, security patches, bug fixes, hardware replacement and hard-to-find talent through expensive projects. Rather, SMBs stay current with software that is not only updated and innovative, but continually evolving to meet ever-changing security threats and legal requirements. With lower costs, scarce capital can be deployed into other efforts that drive new opportunities and growth.
And, when a small to medium business is ready to expand into another country or a new continent, the cloud is already there and ready for productive work. No longer do companies need to delay global expansion because their on-premises system has to be designed, provisioned, deployed and tested for months. With the cloud, it is about as complicated as placing an order for electrical service to a new facility; in fact, in parts of the world, it is probably simpler than requesting new utilities.
Because, if your smartphone works in your new location, you have access to the cloud for your business.
Just like stones, all on-premises systems vary greatly in terms of sizes, shapes and substrates. Every stone product produced during the Stone Age was a custom, one-off object. A remarkable aspect of the Bronze Age was the evolution of uniform materials that supported design standards and larger-scale production efforts—including the development and use of casting molds. This jump from stone to bronze is often ranked as one of humanity's biggest transformations in terms of societal organization and human skills.
The jump from on-premises to cloud for business software could end up being just as dramatic and important.
Today’s cloud offers system uniformity as a baseline which can later be configured for personalized needs. Productivity with the cloud dramatically increases—especially as IT staff are freed from the day-to-day work of keeping customized systems patched and productive. I imagine craftsmen who started in the Stone Age marveled at how uniform bronze materials increased their own productivity. No more wandering all day in rocky fields looking for the perfect stone for the next custom project or searching far and wide for a replacement rock to fix a broken tool.
There is no doubt that on-premises systems are fading away. The tools and talent of this passing era are clearly transitioning to the cloud. Because of remarkable productivity advantages which immediately translates into lower costs, today’s cloud is the new technology platform.
Just as stone tools rapidly disappeared after the Bronze Age took hold, SMBs are not returning to on-premises systems. The Stone Age is over and done.