Many organisations consider cloud primarily as a means of removing cost from their business – which is certainly one of its potential benefits. However, moving applications to the cloud also provides an opportunity to improve productivity and increase business profitability.

Cloud is increasingly being used to support collaboration and innovation, completely reinventing the concept of the ‘skunk works’. This term was originally coined to describe a small research and development group at Lockheed Martin, and is now used for any team of bright individuals brought together to think radically to solve difficult problems or create innovation. In the past, it meant bringing people together in the same room to generate ideas and share materials and resources. This is becoming difficult for organisations whose staff are increasingly mobile or work flexibly and hence may rarely meet face to face.

However, today’s skunk works is primarily about knowledge sharing and collaborative working – which is where cloud comes in. It enables people to work collaboratively and share documents and Intellectual Property (IP) across different locations. They can access documents on multiple devices whether they’re at home, on the road or in the office; stop work to do other things, then log on again and see the progress that has been made by colleagues.

This way of working is instinctive for younger people, who have grown up with cloud-based information sharing for their social interactions. They expect to find the same concept – working across multiple platforms and sharing information in real time – in their workplace, so organisations need to capitalise on this by making suitable tools available.

For example, social networks such as Yammer provide a corporate equivalent to Facebook, and can be used to increase employee engagement as well as facilitating cross-team collaboration. This is now included with Microsoft Office 365, making it widely available. Instant messaging and video products such as Skype provide an alternative to phone and email. Some organisations actively encourage staff to email less because it reduces the ability to innovate, while social media tools encourage human interaction and can come across as more friendly.

By moving line of business applications to the cloud, organisations can enable users to access more information such as corporate databases and file stores, while the data itself is retained in-house. Vendors such as Microsoft are facilitating this by combining the desktop application experience and server remote desktop services in the cloud, making them available on a variety of devices.

Office 365 allows users to easily share documents with colleagues whether inside or outside the office and enables them to collaborate and work on the same file at the same time. For example, a global property investment organisation with total assets under management of $3.85 billion worked with us to implement Office 365 to encourage collaboration between their employees who were based over 8 offices throughout Europe. In the two years since the implementation they have seen a vast improvement in the interaction between international offices, mainly due to instant messaging. Another organisation using Microsoft Office 365 is construction company SDC, where it enables staff working on projects around the country to access resources and liaise with colleagues at the company’s head office in Bedford.

Cloud then, should not just be considered for its ability to reduce costs. By removing barriers to success and helping staff work together in new ways, it can help organisations innovate and collaborate and move their business forward in new directions.

By Mike Dearlove, managing director, EACS