UK-based Pearson has been in the news recently and it’s not just for its joint venture with Bertelsmann that will combine Penguin and Random House or the major restructuring that has taken place at the education behemoth; it’s also over the cloud war that has intensified between Google and Microsoft over Pearson’s decision to offer cloud-based document services to its enterprise users.
Pearson had recently made a radical shift in the way the whole organization works by allowing its users to bring to work any of their personal Android, Apple, Blackberry or Windows devices and just plug into either of Microsoft or Google’s respective offerings of MS Office and Google Docs on the cloud.
This is what will be the first of many of such moves by publishing houses big and small.
The time seems right for cloud technologies to take over more applications essential to publishers and to move them to a “software as a service” (SaaS) based model, where the software provided is relatively cheap or free but its maintenance and customization is not. Making this transition, however, is easier said than done. There are many custom applications which are used specifically by publishers: for example, content and editorial systems that may be difficult to take to the cloud. But there are components of the workflow that can more easily be moved.
Adobe’s creative cloud can change the way work is being done currently. Users can access SaaS-based tools to make the creative, store it and access it on the cloud; it can be integrated with the already-existing workflows.
It is too early yet to take the front-end of these workflows to the cloud but the back-end can surely utilize technology provided by Amazon Web Services, VMWare or any of the cloud players.
Cloud services provide the best price performance where they are truly multi-tennanted: that is to say all users run a shared copy of the application with common processes. So, processes such as human resources and financials should be the first ones to go on the cloud. Not only does the vendor generally do IT hosting, it would also do the management of application.
On the opposite pole are the niche processes: for example, book publishing content and asset management. The service levels required for these processes means that at least in the medium-term some form of managed infrastructure is likely to be the best delivery model for these services. Somewhere between these two extremes are custom applications, which include the Pearson example.
The final category includes a number of commodity services, such as email and intranet that are available on shared platforms similar to HR and finance processes but have service levels similar to core publication services. This is where SaaS vendors that can guarantee high service levels can help.
The true goal of these changes is to move to a model of IT that can be consumed by employees, customers and suppliers, wherever they are and on whatever device they use. IT itself will change, refocusing time away from maintaining service and toward delivering a faster, more flexible business. This is why the steps taken by Pearson are significant; this is a path less taken so far in the publishing world, but probably not for long.