The other day I ran into a blog post titled “Logica says cloud is railway of 21st century“. I was intrigued by the title, so I went on and started reading. Community clouds, which I have been advocating for quite a while, allow like-minded companies to share information across geographical boundaries in the same way trains used to move goods around the place last century.

But in the same way the movement of goods in the 19th and most of the 20th century was hindered by boarder control and import regulations, the shared information is with compliance regulation. This is something many people have a tendancy to overlook as the correct legislation is not always obvious. For example, the current EU privacy directive is in direct contradiction with the US Patriot Act, and (fortunately or unfortunately?) there has not been any judgement to date defining clear jurisdiction, so things are still in flux. InformationLawGroup has written a number of blog posts on the legal aspects of cloud that I’ve found quite insightfull, and I’m referring to on a regular basis. 

The concept of a community cloud is appealing, as it allows companies in a common eco-system to interact more smoothly together, facilitating the development of a joint product, the visibility of their supply chain, the sales & operations planning etc. However, there is quite some fear in the business. Why is that the case?

First, remember a little over 10 years ago, we had the famous internet hubs. At the hight of the internet boom, we had about 700 of those, if I count right there are about 4 left. The inability to develop a viable business model killed most of the hubs. The others got hurt by lack of confidentiality of information. One of the interesting aspects of hubs then, and community clouds today, is that some of the companies participating in the eco-system may be competitors elsewhere. So, they are eager to maintain their information assets. Hence the lack of trust that is also highlighted in the blog post.

Using a neutral cloud service provider can actually be an added value. It is not the OEM that hosts the environment (that used to be called private hubs, versus the public hubs), and so the OEM cannot access all information, avoiding the procurement department to have specific details that could help it in the next contract negotiations. And we’re back on trust.

Such environment could be funded on a pay-per-use basis. Each partner in the eco-system pays for what he uses. Sounds fair, isn’t it? 

The whole issue is how you get there? How do you convince the partners to overcome their lack of trust and start sharing. At HP we have done that by sharing ourselves in the first place, demonstrating to our eco-system that they actually gain from sharing, rather than loose. It often takes about one budget cycle (one year) for them to realize it’s beneficial, and then they start sharing. But here comes the compliance and legal aspects. How should we structure the data reservoirs for the eco-system to have access to the appropriate information without bending the rules. For a global supply chain, it may not be in one location, but multiple locations might have to be set-up, complicating the implementation of the collaboration environment.

Clouds are global in nature, but many forget that legislations are still local and driven by local politicians often without a global view. That sub-optimalize the use of clouds. I fear that will be the case for many years to come. Railways used to have different sizes, you remember, fortunately, the industry managed to create standards, allowing trains to cross borders. Electricity levels remained different though, but technology allowed the creation of locomotives capable of running on multiple voltage levels. And then came the TGV and its cross-national projects such as the channel tunnel. Cloud equivalents of these still need to take place prior the cloud becomes the information reservoir and gateway between companies and individuals worldwide. We still have some way to go.