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Sramana Mitra: Cloud has driven “fantastic” productivity growth

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Sramana MitraSramana Mitra is a Silicon Valley strategy consultant who has written and been interviewed widely on the topic of cloud computing. She is the founder of One Million by One Million, a virtual global incubator that aims to help one million businesses reach one million in revenues. Her most recent book, Carnival in the Cloud, uses the stories of entrepreneurs to show how cloud computing has transformed business, and how cloud-based business models will continue to catalyze change. Mitra spoke with Thoughts on Cloud about the future of cloud technology and how it is shaping enterprises, startups, factory floors, and society.

What will cloud computing look like five years from now?

One of the fundamental things the cloud has done is to drop the price of technology tremendously. The adoption and affordability of technology has really been pushed downstream, including to consumers.

All that has created tremendous change in how society interacts with technology. And it has pushed up productivity in a fantastic way. This trend is going to continue. We are just at the tip of the iceberg. We still are going to go much, much further.

There is a very successful cloud company called Marketo, for example. Marketo has very sophisticated sales and marketing automation technology. A five-person company cannot afford Marketo. But if you just give it some time, there will be other players who will come up with technology like Marketo’s, at a very different price point, that will be affordable for these five-person companies.

And again society will benefit. There will be tremendous productivity because of that.

What does this mean for the economy overall? Often the flip side of heightened productivity is fewer jobs.

Job loss is a given. This is part of the story of the cloud. The more we bring automation in, coupled with big data and artificial intelligence, the more we will see higher productivity, more automation, and fewer jobs. That is a trend that is unmistakable, and unavoidable.

But remember, the story is not over. The technology that is now available to larger enterprises is going to drop down in price and become available to small businesses. That evolution, once it’s complete, is going to be really powerful. That really excites me. I think that will create jobs, and will be a meaningful counterpoint to the job loss.

One persistent worry about cloud computing is data security. Is the cloud inherently less secure than on-site computing?

I don’t think data center location is necessarily the issue. The issue is the level of digitization of business processes, the level of digitization of business data, or even government data or society’s data. If you play this out over the next 20 years, or the next 50 years, we’re going to be completely digitized. Then cyber security becomes an incredibly important factor.

I think we just don’t know how secure we are quite yet. Today, al Qaeda and ISIS and similar groups don’t have high-order technical people on their side. And they’re causing enough trouble. What if somebody with real intellectual horsepower went rogue? Then what?

What developments in cloud computing are under-the-radar today, but are about to become more important?

Technologies that are furthering the analytics on the sales and marketing side are poised to become the next major wave. That’s already moving, but marketing is going to become a lot more automated. There’s going to be a lot more investment in technology in that area.

How have consumer trends affected enterprise technology, and what role is the cloud playing in those changes?

Enterprise collaboration is an area that started with ideas that have been successful in the consumer social world. Whole enterprise collaboration strategies are being deeply influenced by what is happening in the world of consumer social media.

The collaboration tool that is very hot right now is Slack. In enterprises, email has been one of the biggest collaboration vehicles. Slack is trying to change the whole email paradigm and replace it with a messaging system that is context-sensitive.

Another big trend is the Internet of Things. Where is this going?

The key is to think about the Internet of Things in certain contexts. One of the most important pieces of the Internet of Things architecture is sensors. So if you think about the Internet of Things in the context of facilities or factories–wherever there is electricity or light, or energy-consuming devices–if that is all sensor-controlled, there is a tremendous opportunity for savings. That could have a meaningful impact on society.

Similarly, if you look at a manufacturing floor, it is basically full of machines, and machines have settings. Machines go wrong. Machines have errors and bugs. So when these machines are enabled with sensors and have the ability to communicate wirelessly to a cloud data center, you could have an algorithm that can process this kind of information, and fix things in real time. It could be a patch that needs to be installed, or a control that needs to be changed, or bug that needs to be fixed. If all of that is automated, the whole industrial domain gets to a much, much more sophisticated level.

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