- COVID-19 workplace restrictions brought about unprecedented cloud adoption in 2020.
- The benefits of cloud-based operations range from improved communication and cost savings to sustainability gains.
- Location independence through cloud adoption enables and expands talent pools and options for existing workers.
If 2020 taught the business universe anything, it’s that large-scale remote work is not only possible but also increasingly preferable, as leaders and workers alike found creative and inspired ways of getting things done. Central to that success, of course, was cloud adoption.
Many companies were already on a path to digitization, but COVID-19 accelerated the adoption particularly of cloud technologies after legions of people were forced to work remotely. In the second quarter of 2020 alone, investors pledged nearly $3 billion to fund cloud-computing deals, and TechHQ reports that the cloud-computing market will be worth $623.3 billion by 2023. It’s clear that the cloud is here to stay.
“The cloud is where you should be right now,” says Chris France, regional president of cloud-services provider Advance2000. “I tell my clients, ‘You get more IT bang for your buck being in the cloud versus having everything locally.’ What we’re seeing is that the firms that had a majority of their compute resources in the cloud fared much better during this pandemic when they had to shift everybody home.”
“This pandemic challenged all of us and was a wake-up call for several companies that were debating whether or not to invest in digital transformation,” says Autodesk Chief Information Officer Prakash Kota. “For those that were already embracing cloud, it was a validation point. And for others, it was a now-or-never situation.”
Now that the dust has largely settled from everyone’s efforts to react, cope, and build resilience, one promising effect of the pandemic is that this rush to digitization and cloud adoption has opened doors to new and innovative ways of working. Here, Kota, France, and other leaders from top tech companies discuss five business opportunities stemming from the acceleration of cloud solutions.
1. Cloud Adoption Is Enabling Enhanced Automation Capabilities
One of the hallmarks of the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, is the accelerated automation of manufacturing tasks and other labor—increasingly mental labor such as design and engineering tasks. As cloud computing and its associated power have grown, the ability to apply automation through machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to these mental duties has risen dramatically.
“Automation is helping everywhere, but it’s needed most where agility—flexibility—is really required, in places such as production plants, construction sites, and the like,” says Bob Pette, NVIDIA vice president of professional visualization. “At NVIDIA, automation is really about AI, which is driving intelligent designs and intelligent production, reducing errors, eliminating mundane tasks and mistakes. It’s freeing up architects, engineers, and designers to focus on what matters the most and not the mundane tasks or the repetitious work.”
“There is a scarcity of resources, and cloud gives essentially unlimited access to computing power,” says Eric Bantegnie, vice president of the Systems and Platform Business Unit at simulation-software company Ansys. Cloud access frees engineers from the constraints imposed by on-premises computing power, thereby enabling greater simulation capabilities, as well as innovation through generative design and AI, he says.
2. Cloud Adoption Is Accelerating Team Communication and Enabling Innovation Through XR
The breakout star of pandemic communication has no doubt been Zoom video conferencing, but plenty of other tools and formats have also gotten their due. The triumvirate of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality—referred to collectively as extended reality (XR)—is tailor-made to enable collaboration, communication, and innovation among colleagues who can’t share the same physical space.
“The speed of creative development is directly correlated to a company’s ability to communicate, be that communicating concepts, issues, iterations, or new solutions to problems,” says Nick John, industrial design and visualization manager at Symetri, which helps construction and manufacturing companies optimize business processes. “XR, AI, and the cloud are all key components in accelerating communication and facilitating clear, clean lines of dialogue.
“Originally, XR was introduced to many creative departments as a design process to simply accelerate decision making,” John continues. “But the tools have evolved really quickly, and companies have increasingly realized the additional benefits, ranging from reduced physical prototypes, reduced travel, reduced shipping, reduced logistics, real-time transcontinental collaboration, and all the associated overheads that come with that. This convergence of technology and mentality legitimately produces a greener, more sustainable process for the design of a vehicle or product. This is a massive, valuable, additional benefit to investors and customers of a given company.”
3. Cloud Adoption Is Facilitating Energy Reduction and Cost Savings
Just as the cloud is facilitating XR use, thereby allowing for greener design and production processes, the simple fact of not needing actual data centers is also providing energy and cost savings to companies—as much as 90% of small firm’s energy bills, according to France of Advance2000.
“The biggest expense for data-center computing is the power of the computers, the servers and so forth, and the cooling,” he says. “The cooling is very expensive, and it takes even more electricity to run all these air conditioners. So when we centralize—centralize when you can, distribute when you have to—we can do all kinds of state-of-the-art things to reduce our power consumption. That’s why we have data centers in Buffalo, NY: We use a lot of outside air. It’s cold, and it reduces our use of cooling.”
Although smaller companies can go all-in on virtual desktops connected through the cloud, larger outfits will still likely exist in more of a hybrid mode, with some local servers to support. But the takeaway, France argues, is that large engineering firms don’t need 20 offices purely for IT support; if the will exists, they can consolidate to just one. “Typically, large firms will save anywhere from 40% to 50% of their annual IT spend by moving to the cloud,” he says.
4. Cloud Adoption Is Breaking Down Entrenched Business Silos
As every business leader knows, it’s not optimal to show a company’s organizational structure in its product offerings, rather than presenting a seamless, unified product or service experience. But digital transformation through cloud adoption can help alleviate dreaded organizational silos.
“The rollout of a full digitalization process enables companies to do one thing that CEOs are longing for, which is to break down barriers between their organizations,” says Bantegnie of Ansys. “It is true for many organizations and, in particular, engineering organizations that often have a number of distinct silos with test engineers, assistant engineers, designers, simulation experts, analysts, et cetera.”
But, Bantegnie asserts, if all of those players are rallying around the same data sets in the cloud, then they can perform functions previously confined to each discrete role. Say an engineering team wants to speed a product to market to meet consumer demand, but to do so, it needs to simulate and test hundreds of possible variants in just a few days. If the designers are able to run those simulations in a CAD environment, they can effectively stand in for the analysts and complete those tests immediately.
“Beyond engineering, many of our large industrial customers have pushed the envelope on remote monitoring and remote maintenance because they simply could not have enough people in their factories,” he continues. “Being able to make decisions because you are able to do intelligent, AI-based remote monitoring of assets in an environment where it’s very difficult to send people out … is like breaking down the silos between the blue-collar wall of operations and engineering teams.”
5. Cloud Adoption Is Expanding Talent Options and Worker Choices Through Location Independence
In addition to questioning the need for thousands of square feet of office space in New York or Boston or San Francisco, firms are starting to realize that freedom from a physical office opens up the global talent pool—and gives existing employees more agency over their work location.
“If COVID-19 has changed the way that we work and connected people to companies all over the world, we don’t need to actually be stuck by the barriers of geography, and you could work for anyone,” John says. “I think it’s important for people to show their talent, show their skillset, and keep themselves up to date because they could potentially be working for any company globally now.”
France echoes that point, noting that companies can now get the best designers from anywhere in the world; increasingly, his clients are institutionalizing location independence and remote working.
“Certainly, the cloud helps address the desire and the need to work from anywhere,” Pette of NVIDIA says. “That shift began before the pandemic. People wanted to move to where they could enjoy their best quality of life. I think we’ll see more and more tools that allow people not just to connect to their computing resource or their app, but to each other.”
“All organizations needed to adapt and think differently and, in some cases, accelerate changes and digital transformation initiatives that might have taken years,” Autodesk’s Kota says. “I would say this is just the beginning.”
This article was adapted from the Autodesk University 2020 panel “Redshift Presents: How the Pandemic Is Accelerating Cloud Adoption and Business-Model Innovation.” Watch the panel.