Print Service Providers Share Concerns About the 'Cloud'
I spoke recently at a user group meeting composed largely of commercial printers when the topic of the 'Cloud' came up. I was a bit surprised to hear a very high level of suspicion. I asked the audience: "Who is excited about the opportunities presented by the Cloud?" Two hands went up. "Who’s not?" About half the audience raised their hands. Multiple questions were put forward about data security, possible integration issues, and overall viability. The bad vibes were much stronger than I anticipated.
It continued. The 'Cloud' was dismissed as a marketing buzzword. "It’s just a question of where the server resides," said one attendee. Others were very skeptical about turning over their production data or any client data to a third party. Some said that their agreements with clients would not allow it. Another attendee told a horror story of a cloud service that became unavailable for two days because of a snowstorm and power outage on the East Coast. There was also concern that integrations that their companies had built on top of workflow software could stop working if software revisions were made to the cloud offering. Loss of control, concerns about expense, and cloud-based licensing issues were also key themes. One attendee described the cloud today as a "royal cluster of inconsistent services." Wow.
There were a few cloud proponents in the audience. One print service provider took me aside and said that his company had had significant success with a cloud-based marketing service, and that, in fact, he felt (and so did his client) that it was a benefit that marketing campaign data did not reside on the print service provider’s servers. Another noted that most cloud service providers had disaster recovery plans that would not be waylaid by loss of power in a single location. Private clouds were suggested as an alternative that could overcome some of the security concerns.
Yet it is clear from this audience of influential print service providers that cloud service offerings have some market hurdles to clear before these perceptions change. Some of this will depend on the service provided. For example, cloud-based color management of ICC profiles or shop floor data collection may be appealing to some companies, particularly those managing multiple sites. There may also be differences in acceptance between smaller print service providers and larger ones. Smaller ones are likely to be open to pay-as-you-go methods rather than larger capital acquisitions, but they may also very sensitive about the potential for service disruptions beyond their control. Larger print service providers are likely to be quicker to see the advantages, but will cautiously pick and choose which areas to get started with cloud services.
InfoTrends research identifies security and/or privacy concerns as the top inhibitors for print service providers assessing cloud software. And while other concerns such as those expressed at the user group meeting I attended remain important, InfoTrends sees a strong future for cloud delivery of software in the graphic communications industry. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) will take the lead for capabilities such as data back-up, Web/FTP services, and virtualized desktop services. InfoTrends sees high levels of interest from print service providers in cloud workflows, as well as subscription-based licensing. Cloud networks could fundamentally alter the face of the industry, and though there are still legal, security, and distribution aspects to be resolved, there are also significant benefits to be gained.
As software vendors accelerate their cloud developments they will need to keep one thing in mind: some print service providers will remain resistant to the lure of the cloud. To convince them will require a focus on advantageous applications and an investment marketing and education around the benefits.
For more on the cloud, see the InfoTrends research study entitled "Cloud-based Infrastructures & Workflows for Graphic Communications." Ryan McAbee has also just published an analysis for InfoTrends clients called "Cloud-based Automation for Digital Printing." If you are interested in either of these documents, please feel free to contact me.