European Innovation

‘If it’s not open, it’s not the Internet’

Vint Cerf

Fascinating event this morning on cloud computing, hosted by Openforum europe. I mostly confirmed my attendance because I know too little about this fascinating phenomenon that is so profoundly changing how business is being done these days (by the way, it appeared like I was not the only one in the room eager to learn more). That being said, I had at least the benefit of being one of the few users in attendance. Thanks to a generous donation from Salesforce.com Foundation, the Lisbon Council is now using cloud computing and is on balance very happy with the service. It certainly beats building and managing your own database (and I know what I am talking about).

I will spare you some of the more technical details but the gist of the discussion was that on the side of service providers, there are those companies whose business model relies essentially on locking consumers in, thereby making it difficult or impossible to switch. On the other side are companies that are relentless in their pursuit of the consumer, that are constantly innovating to stay ahead of the curve and provide a better service, that are not afraid of competition but that thrive in the race to deliver more, faster. It struck me that the existence of these two kinds of business models is not only present in IT / cloud computing but also in most other sectors.

Three questions that need answering going forward in this debate:

1) How does Europe compare in take-up of cloud computing technology vis-à-vis other parts of the world? Software as a service can be an incredible boon, particularly for SMEs, which need affordable and readily available business services in order to grow and prosper. Why is this issue not more visible in the work that is being done on promotion of SMEs at European level?

2) The speakers said that a change in technology must be accompanied by a change in attitude. I agree, but how do you do that? How do you change a policy system that is still geared towards protecting the interests of producers rather than consumers? How can users be the drivers of tomorrow’s innovations, generating the demand that will reward good entrepreneurs offering superior products and services?

3) Why are there not more European leaders in cloud computing? It seems that the few European companies that exist in this field essentially want to be bought or are bought by the big IT players, coming mostly from across the Atlantic. Has Europe missed the boat when it comes to cloud computing? My worry is that if we don’t have a horse in the race, we will not pay sufficient attention to what is ultimately a fundamental transformation in the way business is done.

Lots of issues still unresolved, to be sure. But I look forward to following this debate, and seeing if and how this transformation will play out in Europe.

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