Canadian C-levels clueless on cloud?

A new survey commissioned by Microsoft found under 5 per cent of Canadian C level execs understand what the cloud is, but the reality is somewhat different.

John Weigelt

John Weigelt, CTO of Microsoft Canada

This week, Microsoft Canada announced the findings of a new survey on Canadian executives’ attitudes towards cloud computing, and the numbers were a shock. 90 per cent of senior Canadian executives said they were not familiar with what cloud computing means, and of the 10 per cent who said they were, only 45 per cent were able to select the correct definition from a list of choices.   That means under 5 per cent understood what cloud computing means.

Those numbers seem astonishing. They appear to contradict the findings of several other North American and Canadian surveys over the last year, which show increased interest in deploying clouds. Indeed, this same Microsoft study, which was conducted by globally integrated insights consulting firm Northstar, among 476 C-Suite employees in Canada, found data on execs discussing moving to the cloud that was much more consistent with these other studies. 74 per cent of medium and large sized business and 39 per cent of small businesses are talking about moving to cloud computing. This would mean that large numbers of execs are considering moving to the cloud who don’t understand what it is.

It could also mean that the 90 per cent number is a statistical illusion, something that Microsoft seems to suspect.

“The study surprised us as well, as we have been tracking this over the last several years,” said John Weigelt, CTO of Microsoft Canada. “The only way I can conceptualize the finding is that cloud has become a very broad term. It used to mean just online services and now it means so much more, including ‘cloud washed’ solutions – traditional software solutions with cloud on top. So that when execs encounter the term ‘cloud,’ it’s not always a consistent meaning with what enterprise cloud means.”

Weigelt also said that these past surveys done for Microsoft showed considerably greater cloud use than the new one suggests, although they also contained evidence which suggest how the results in this one wound up as they did.

“One survey three years ago, looking at thought on the cloud, found that 29 per cent were using cloud services then and 19% were in the cloud then – and didn’t even realize it,” he said. “There was also confusion in citing name brands as cloud. They would know sites like OneDrive, without realizing they were cloud.”

Weigelt suggested that this explained some of the survey data, such as that executives at nearly four-in-ten small companies (36 per cent) generally don’t know what cloud services are used for, and that one-quarter of small business executives admit to “not having a clue” what cloud computing really is or does.

Weigelt also said some of the issue is language.

“It’s a definitional thing,” he said. “When we look at the C suite, they are really focused on the business value conversation. It’s not like they don’t comprehend what they are doing around cloud. But there is some degree of translation as they get to the C suite, where cloud ideas become business concepts they may not identify as cloud.”

Weigelt said it can be easy not to recognize something as a cloud application.

“With a cloud application like Office 365, since the interface is the same as with software, many people are not aware that it is cloud, not software,” he noted. He also indicated that while cloud software like Office 365 gives notices to update the software, IT organizations typically push out updates as well, so a user isn’t likely to see a difference.

“People are engrossed in business,” he said. “They use an app to do their business, but don’t see what’s happening behind it.”

The survey’s security findings were not positive either, as they gave the impression the cloud was comparatively unsafe. Almost three-quarters of Canadian executives (72 per cent) said they would be uncomfortable sharing confidential strategic plans in the cloud. 45 per cent believed their company’s information would be downright “unsafe” in the cloud.

Weigelt thought these concerns reflected the influence of popular culture more than reality.

“Popular media plays a bit of a role here,” he said. “People see trailers of a movie [2014’s Sex Tape] of images going to the cloud and not being able to be deleted, and they think that’s reality.”

Weigelt also said that inaccurate impressions of Canadian law hurt here as well. While data being stored outside national boundaries is illegal in some countries, Canada is not one of them, even though many people think it is.

“There is a misperception that that is prohibited in law in Canada,” he said. “Confusion over the law doesn’t bode well for adoption.

On a regional basis, the survey found that Quebec execs (32 per cent) were most likely to be in the discussion stage when it comes to cloud computing, compared to 26 per cent in Ontario and 21 per cent in the West.

Western Canadians were the most likely to believe that cloud solutions could not address their company’s unique technology needs (65 per cent), compared to eastern Canada at 40 per cent and Ontario at 55 per cent. This, Weigelt said, was another example of people not really understanding what was in the cloud.

“It’s amazing that western execs believed it wasn’t important to their businesses, and I think it’s because they see the cloud as consumer applications,” he said. “Many oil and gas applications are in the cloud, and they provide tremendous benefits to that region.”

Weigelt said that corporate cloud applications are continuing to improve, and address customer pain points. Most organizations are plagued by the use of unauthorized cloud apps like DropBox for filesharing, which IT is seldom even aware of.

“Now our OneDrive for Business gives capability for filesharing under corporate policy control,” he said. “We think that unleashing that capacity in OneDrive is a market changer.”