Cloud Computing: What Does It Mean For User Experience? A Lot. And It’s All Good.

Cloud computing is exactly what it sounds like: the usage of services like web servers, database servers and other applications so it’s transparent to the user and developer. The configuration and management is taken care of by a large company (in this case, a Microsoft and Amazon), and they provide all the software and services that are needed to run web applications without any of the maintenance.  

For the end user, what’s at the other end of the internet connection really doesn’t mean much. Users want the applications that work and are easy to use. Scallability, system architecture and configurations don’t mean much when all you want to do is buy a book.

Cloud computing is the hot new topic that’s going to revolutionize how we look and implement applications. Because of this, the responsibilities of User Experence Architects and Information Architects is going to drastically change, and cloud computing services is like Windows Azure are going to enable this revolution.

The opportunity to develop new applications is going to explode

Cloud computing has a completely different model than traditional hosting: pay for what you use. That means the cost of employing system administrators, buying servers, and all of the overhead associated with developing applications is gone; now developers can order a server to be spun up, and the service provider provides all the VPN interfaces to connect to the server.

How quick is the setup? You could have a whole farm of servers ready to go in minutes, complete with database software installed.  Complete scalability with a bit of architecture planning and a credit card.

The choice of buy versus build is going to dramatically change  

With lower costs in one of area of software development, companies are going to look for other areas to optimize their technology spend, and so software platforms like SharePoint are going to get a second look, and a third look. And the job of the User Experience Architect to find the right tool for the job.

No tool will fit your client’s needs 100 percent of the time, but most applications (like a Microsoft CRM or a Sales Force) will fit 80 percent of your client’s requirements, and many of these packages are also going to be easily available through the cloud.

User Experience and Information Architects will be in the position of guiding the client or stackholder to a solution that not only fits most of the user needs, but saves time, money and fits within a platform.

Think of it: your client wants an intranet, and instead of collecting requirements, you can get a test drive of an application in the cloud environment 30 minutes later. Within a day or two, you are doing interative development building applications they want or need.

Custom development isn’t going to go away, but companies will look more to what’s already there versus what to build, or customizing platforms. This means that from a development standpoint, applications will be better tested and in the long run quicker to market. The hope is these applications also will have better usability based on industry standard design patterns, therefore supporting cloud computing even further.

The pricing model for for these applications of going to be more palitable for a larger range of clients

The massive licensing needs of an Oracle or SAP isn’t going to go away: those applications are mission critical that have extensive security and governance requirements. Companies that have those needs are going to keep the applications internal to their networks for business needs, mainly because exposing that data in a virtual cloud has all kinds of security consequences.

What about that client that has extensive CRM needs, but only a company of ten people?

The pay as you go pricing model is perfect for them: they are going to get the functionality they need to run their business at a higher level, but only pay for what they use. Gone are the days of having a huge IT department; here are the days of consultants that can drop in and provide expertise on meeting exactly the client needs. Providing more value without the overhead of repetitve tasks, the costs of this isn’t going to require 15 signatures just to get started.

Think of it as instead of not needing a mechanic to ride with you at all times while driving, and only needing repair exactly when your car breaks down.  

It’s happening now with some open source applications, and it’s only going to accelerate with cloud computing.

How long is this going to take?

Like all marketing concepts (Web 2.0, Social Networking, etc.), it’ll take a while to take hold. But when you look at some of the advantages, there’s never been a better time to be a User Experience Architect. This could be the one thing that enables the technology sector to survive this recession and even grow through it. Cloud computing provides real value with cutting costs, and that’s music to companies’ ears.

Embrace change, because the future’s never been sunnier.