With cloud computing, SMEs can overcome tech deficiencies

Ashutosh Sharma, VP & Research Director, Forrester, feels that the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the assumptions of IT leaders around the resilience and scalability of their infrastructure. This has led to businesses adopting cloud computing for a variety of reasons.

Ashutosh Sharma, VP & Research Director, Forrester

IBT: How has COVID-19 impacted the adoption rate of cloud computing across the world and for India in particular?

Ashutosh Sharma: COVID-19 has made many organizations realize the limits of their existing technology strategies. The pandemic has challenged the assumptions that IT leaders had around the resilience and scalability of their infrastructure. Coupled with these limitations, the requirements of responding quickly have made firms adopt cloud for a variety of their needs.

From adopting it to enable employees to work remotely, launching new applications quickly in response to COVID and even improving the scale of existing applications – businesses have embraced cloud computing.

IBT: What are the drivers for this shift? Which industries have emerged as new growth avenues for cloud computing adoption and why?

Ashutosh Sharma: In addition to the need to respond quickly and at scale – doing it securely and need to buy vs building it themselves have further driven adoption of cloud computing. This adoption has risen across all industries – however, the differences across industries would be in the specific use-cases that have become more popular across them.

IBT: What benefits do DAAS and SAAS provide for Indian SMEs in particular, as they embrace greater levels of digitisation and formalisation?

Ashutosh Sharma: DAAS as a solution has grown in popularity during the pandemic as firms are looking to enable their employees to securely connect to their applications. However, as such this solution is not that popular among SMEs. The primary reason is that the cost of a cloud-based desktop is an additional cost over and above the desktop investments. SMEs are going to adopt DAAS only in certain limited use cases where mobility, security, connectivity, performance benefits outweigh their costs.

SMEs in India are primed for cloud-based applications. Our research shows that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for SME digitization is availability of skills and their tech maturity. With cloud-based applications, SMEs can obviate that need. Not as much the infrastructure-as-a-service but SaaS is clearly a winner among them.

IBT: With the government aggressively backing Digital India, what role is cloud computing playing in governance, and how do you see its role getting transformed in the coming years?

Ashutosh Sharma: The Indian government is one of the leading governments when it comes to adopting technology for governance. Considering the variability across the states and lack of skills, which hamper some of the digitization – some of the government ministries and departments and a few state governments have adopted cloud to drive citizen experience. Some of the biggest examples are use-cases which Government has deployed on Umang platform. Digilocker, EPFO and various services by MORTH (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways) are all good examples of how Indian government services can be scaled to India’s large population.

IBT: Indian startups like Freshworks and Zoho have achieved success with cloud solutions? What is your view on the potential of India’s startup ecosystem in this space going forward, and the opportunities for new startups going forward?

Ashutosh Sharma: India has a very vibrant start-up ecosystem. The country has had B2C focused start-ups for a long time. However, in recent years, as Indian businesses have started to accelerate their digitization, we are seeing an emergence of successful B2B-focused startups. The number of Indian start-ups in AI, digital marketing, cloud solutions, robotics, AR/VR and other emerging technology areas has risen rapidly, and it is poised to grow on the back of demand from Indian businesses. The government has eased up some regulatory roadblocks for start-ups; however we still need significant regulatory simplification for this ecosystem to flourish.

IBT: What are the scale up challenges for Indian companies when it comes to adopting cloud solutions, particularly considering the exponential rise in data-heavy businesses like OTT and edtech?

Ashutosh Sharma: When it comes to cloud adoption, I believe that India has come a long way in the last 3 years. A couple of years ago, we had data residency issues with global cloud providers not having their data centers in India. Indian IT leaders also used to be very skeptical about losing control over the infrastructure and cloud security. We are well past these problems now. Today, India has a healthy mix of GSPs with enough competition to ensure very good price points and quality of service for Indian customers.

The biggest challenge now is the lack of cloud skills in enterprises – barring few industries such as IT/ITeS, financial services, online retail and a few large conglomerates, others have struggled to launch and scale their cloud adoption. In some cases, even if they can adopt cloud for some basic applications or adopt SaaS-based applications, they lack the skills to leverage the advanced capabilities that cloud providers can bring to modernize the IT applications.

IBT: Also, how effective is cloud computing today in addressing security issues faced by client companies and their customers? How are they working to resolve these issues?

Ashutosh Sharma: As firms migrate computing and data resources to the cloud, security remains a top concern and priority for both operational and compliance reasons. But I don’t think this is a problem anymore, if firms abide by a proper framework. Forrester’s Cloud security Maturity Assessment  include six major competencies and their weightings: governance (20%), measurement (10%), people (10%), process (10%), strategy (10%), and technology (40%) along with subsets of activities for each. We do a quick 20-question assessment for Security & Risk (S&R) professionals that aims to:

a) Establish your firm’s maturity of cloud security

b) Get actionable guidance on how to improve and expand cloud security coverage to reduce threat surface and protect cloud workloads and data more effectively.

Once you complete the assessment, it will generate an overall maturity level between 0 (nonexistent) and 5 (optimized) and help translate maturity levels into characteristics of overall maturity. Within this framework, companies can then endeavour to expand the scope of their cloud security competencies gradually. If done correctly, your applications are far more secure running on cloud provider platforms than on your own infrastructure.

Ashutosh serves the CIO role and leads the India team at Forrester that guides Business Technology (BT) and Marketing & Strategy Professionals. Ashutosh specializes in the area of BT and provides strategic guidance and advice to clients in the areas of digital business, cloud, mobility, big data, emerging technologies, sourcing, and contract management.

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