Why cloud is an enabler, not a place to store your business

Key takeaways

  • Referring to cloud technology as a the limits thinking around the possibilities it can enable.
  • Viewing cloud as a how can bring agility, scale, flexibility, value, innovation, security and savings.
  • The full impact of what cloud can enable for business is only just beginning to be realised.

Working in cloud technology, it might seem strange when I tell you that in the past I have banned my teams from using the phrase ‘the cloud’. If anyone used the definite article ‘the’ in front of ‘cloud’, they had to put a pound in the coin jar, and then we’d put it towards coffee and cake.

As I told my team: There’s no such thing as ‘the’ cloud. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking there is, given that it is predicted worldwide public cloud revenue will top almost US$400 billion by 2022.1 In the next year alone, end-user spending on public cloud services is forecast to grow over 23 percent.

The issue is the pesky ‘the,’ and while you might say this is just a semantics argument, there is a real world consequence of thinking about cloud as a single ‘thing’ — it’s a noun that could hurt your business.

No such thing as ‘the’ cloud

Firstly, just like those in the sky, there is no single ‘cloud’. Clouds are manifold in nature; a huge variety of different services and capabilities — all leveraging processing power, storage and networking in a wildly different variety of ways with flexibility to adapt to demands.

Therefore, saying ‘the’ cloud is misleading. But secondly, and in my mind, more importantly, thinking of cloud as a thing — be it processing power, storage or connectivity — misses the most exciting part of what it can do.

Many times, clients tell me they want to move their organisation to ‘the cloud’. To me, this is like saying “I want to move my organisation to the technology.” Like your smartphone, or your laptop, these boxes are not pieces of magical technological innovation because they exist, but because of what they do.  

And, as in the invention of the smartphone or the computer, they didn’t change business because they were bought, or even turned on, but because of the greater thinking they enabled. Compare what a business could do before computers and how businesses operate, and dominate, in the post-computer world. Or how your smartphone has driven societal change through connectivity and apps in barely more than ten years.

That is the order of magnitude we are talking about when it comes to how we should see cloud. 

What if cloud wasn’t a what, but a how?

The real silver lining 

This is more than just grammatical pedantry. Thinking of cloud as a ‘what’ could have a negative effect on how you use it to grow your business. Cloud is often regarded as a location: a place to store applications and data. It is therefore a replacement for existing data centres and infrastructure — a new way of delivering things that already exist. Thinking of it as a ‘how’ helps us to approach it in a more unconstrained and creative way: as the accessing of innovative technologies and capabilities that can enable transformative actions.

By addressing cloud as an enabler of possibilities and innovation, your thinking may open up beyond replacing IT infrastructure. The reality is that cloud is not just a step in your business’ journey of going digital, it is an enabler that has the potential to entirely transform what you do and how you do it. By lowering costs and barriers to adoption, the opportunities to innovate are now within reach of business more than ever before. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many organisations were forced to quickly implement remote working environments for their teams and the speed with which this was done was in many cases due to the flexibility that cloud services enabled.    

It has been said that the pandemic drove 10 years worth of digital transformation in a mere few months. So why stop there?

What could your business do if it could capitalise on similar innovations to those found in your smartphone? From ever increasing capture of data to voice, image and facial recognition, sentiment analysis, automation, mapping, AI and machine learning.  We all have these technologies at our fingertips today, therefore, so does your business.

Reimagining the possible

Take data. Organisations across a number of industries are revisiting this most critical of assets — in some cases 20-30 years of it. Cloud is allowing them to combine data sets in ways previously not possible, to analyse them using AI and machine learning via processing power that was previously unattainable, and then to combine this data with new sources such as image/audio/video/location and third party data sources. All while experimenting and prototyping at speed and on demand in ways not financially viable 10-15 years ago.

Given these capabilities, it is worth asking if your business has started to reimagine the possible.

Cloud can reduce the friction in transformation, harness and drive more value from your data to deliver growth, improve security and unlock the innovation that will enable you to disrupt the market. 

Some big questions worth asking include:

  • Continuous transformation — How deep has your organisation embedded continuous evolution and innovation within your business strategy? It’s no longer a nice to have but a critical differentiator. How are you planning to evolve your operating model, ways of working and culture? Can you react to disruption with agility? How do you free up more resources for more meaningful work?
  • Driving quicker time to value — How has your organisation planned for this? Have you adopted Agile delivery and DevOps?  What data platforms do you have to enable enterprise-wide analytics to make smarter, faster decisions? How can you create new products in days, not months?  
  • Innovation at scale — Does your organisation have a sustained approach for both business and technical innovation?  Which aspects are centralised versus those still in silos? Are you using AI and Machine Learning? What are the options to disrupt your industry?

A new way of thinking

It’s time to reframe our thinking around cloud. Whether you say ‘the’ or not, don’t limit your thinking to data centres, servers and storage. The pandemic has shown us how quickly we can leverage technology to adapt our organisations when faced with an urgent need. 

Imagine if technology was not a constraint. What would you do? What would your business look like? What could you give your customers? How could you reimagine your whole organisation?

Now’s the time to make those ideas reality. And if you have a coin jar, for a spot of cake while you brainstorm.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how ‘cloud’ and digital technologies can enable your future possibilities, visit PwC Australia’s Digital Transformation site.


  1. https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2021-04-21-gartner-forecasts-worldwide-public-cloud-end-user-spending-to-grow-23-percent-in-2021