Are Industry Clouds The Future?
Thu 12 Aug 2021 | Finbarr Toesland
The advent of cloud computing has transformed how the vast majority of businesses run their IT operations.
With the pandemic continuing to cause disruption to countless services, many businesses have benefited from the shift to the cloud due to the advantages it provides around reduced IT costs, flexibility and scalability.
Industry clouds are one of the latest innovations that are on course to boost cloud deployment and offer great value to a wide range of industries. In a nutshell, industry clouds are the combination of cloud-related services, applications and tools with industry-specific workflows, APIs and other customised products. According to the Flexera Cloud Computing Trends report, 90% of enterprises expect cloud usage to exceed prior plans due to COVID-19, with a proportion of this growth coming from industry clouds.
Growing industry-cloud platforms
In the last few months, Microsoft announced they are expanding their industry-specific cloud offerings for financial services firms, manufacturing companies, and nonprofits. By pairing the traditional strengths of the cloud with new features tailored to the specific challenges faced by different industries, Microsoft hopes to attract customers to their service. Conventional public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform, also offer industry-specific cloud platforms to their customers.
For example, Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services recognises the complex regulatory environment financial firms operate in and, because of this, place security at the centre of this cloud platform. Features such as Loan Manager give lenders the ability to close loans quickly through streamlined workflows and higher levels of automation and collaboration.
For heavily regulated industries or those with particular needs, such as healthcare and manufacturing, conventional cloud solutions may not offer enough tailored support or technical features. Making the transition to public cloud for major organisations can be a difficult journey if the on-premise software they use is specifically designed for their needs and the application offering from typical public clouds may mean converting to a less effective platform.
While it is possible to make changes to turn legacy software into a cloud-suitable solution, this process can add additional costs and slow down implementation. Yet, with industry clouds, this issue can be widely bypassed as applications have been personalised to specific use cases and needs.
According to Alysa Taylor, corporate VP of business applications and global industry at Microsoft, industry clouds can help support businesses to embrace digital transformation and deliver value rapidly.
“We created the Microsoft industry clouds by bringing together common data models, cross-cloud connectors, workflows, APIs, and industry-specific components and standards, with the breadth of Microsoft’s cloud services, including Microsoft 365 and Teams, Azure, Microsoft Power Platform, Dynamics 365 and security solutions,” Taylor said in a blog post.
“Through these industry clouds, we aim to empower everyone to deliver value faster, adapt quickly to changing conditions, build for the future and do all of this with security at the core,” she adds.
The healthcare sector is a prime example of how the use of industry-specific cloud platforms can make a genuine impact on everyday operations. Stringent regulations on how patient data is stored and HIPAA regulations in America add extra barriers to using a generic public cloud. Yet, using patient data to create a truly data-driven healthcare system that benefits customers will be most effective when cutting-edge tools are used.
Healthcare-specific cloud platforms can utilise the power of cloud computing and AI to unlock insights from the vast amount of patient data they hold. According to research from IDC, industry cloud spending within healthcare reached $12.1 billion in 2018 and spending in finance totalled $7.4bn, with a strong growth forecast for the future.
While the major public cloud providers are creating industry-specific clouds for a growing range of sectors, not all are yet covered. Each company will need to weigh the benefits of waiting for their industry to gain a high-quality and comprehensive cloud platform with the cost savings and agility enhancements made from switching to a public cloud now.
It’s also important for companies to ensure the industry cloud proposition works exactly for them and fully matches their needs. It may be the case that niche firms or those with an unusual set of requirements won’t significantly gain from switching. Like any major business decision, embracing an industry cloud platform needs the buy-in from all stakeholders as such a shift could be difficult to undo if the solution does not perform as expected.
Building customised features into cloud service platforms is clearly an effective way to ensure various regulations around security and data protection can be automatically met. By reducing the need for employees to focus on manually undertaking compliance tasks, valuable work hours can be freed up to focus on innovation.