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The role of cloud in industry ecosystems

Craig Sowell, Vice President, IBM SmartCloud Marketing

One of the questions I am asked most frequently, whether by clients, the business press or colleagues, is what role cloud will play in industry ecosystems.

It’s a fascinating question, because each industry has its own sensibility regarding the risks and benefits of collaboration—whether or not cloud is part of the equation. Further, industry ecosystems serve highly disparate purposes, often at the same time: smooth functioning of the supply chain, shared best practices, storing and analysis of mutually held data, and in some cases, innovation. In all cases, though, each member brings something distinct to the ecosystem—and each has priorities and concerns that cloud can help address.

Think about healthcare, an industry in whose ecosystem we all play a part. Other than the recipients of healthcare, the key players include doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and the government agencies that administer programs such as Medicare and Medicaid in the US. Each of these parties brings distinct perspectives to the question of collaboration. From the patient’s perspective, there are clear advantages: if you got sick on an overseas trip, wouldn’t you want the local doctors to have immediate access to your medical history? But there could be disadvantages too: are there risks in having your medical history so broadly available?

So what happens when you add cloud to this complicated debate? What’s interesting is that cloud can effectively change the parameters of the ecosystem by shifting people’s perspectives about some of the very questions raised above. When a cloud-driven technology like IBM Watson is introduced, people’s perceptions about how much personal medical information should be shared across the ecosystem can be considerably altered. Once people understand that Watson can not only speed diagnoses but make them more accurate, their sense of that “risk versus value” equation shifts.

This is just one example of how cloud and cloud-enabled technologies will play an increasingly broad and important role in industry ecosystems. Of course the terms of these discussions vary greatly by industry; in consumer products and retail, the risks and benefits are considered in the context of collaborators who are, increasingly, competitors. As the collaboration shifts to the innovation arena, these concerns are even more intense. But regardless of industry, it’s clear that cloud as a key element of the debate—and as an enabler of the ecosystem, in all its forms—is here to stay.

How has cloud changed your risk versus value paradigm? I’d love to read your comments.

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