“This Cloud thing’s fecking brilliant, Ted! It’s like all white and fluffy and everything…”

The headline is based on the recent news that Sir ‘Bob’ as he’s known locally, or Sir Bob Geldof of BandAid and LiveAid fame among other things, is a follower of Cloud Computing. Well what he apparently said at the BETT tradeshow is that it is “Fooking brilliant.”

Obviously Sir Bob had an agenda, otherwise the non-email or smart phone using celeb would have looked even more out of place, but I’m starting to feel the Cloud debate is all becoming a little ‘Father Ted.’ (And I would like to confirm that I am in no way comparing Sir Bob or the Irish in general to the characters of ‘Father Ted’ – the author is Irish – so no need to send the indignant outrage emails…please!)

The more sensible reason for this thinking was provoked by Jason Stamper’s predictions for the year ahead and its mention of last year’s Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2010.

I agree with Jason that there is every danger Cloud Computing, the catch-all for anything-over-the-Internet, is going to crash into the trough of disillusionment unless vendors are careful.

Gartner would, I’m sure, be happy to consult concerned parties for a small fee – particularly as they believe Cloud is the number one priority this year – but here’s some much cheaper thoughts from the communications perspective! Cloud is here to stay, without any question, but the pseudo religious fervour that some applying to this debate has allowed the mud slingers to continue re-using tired arguments around security, reliability and scalability…as borne out by the Economist article in December, which I’d personally like to thank for its guidance on the pronunciation of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. (apparently, it’s ‘letter’ + ‘arse’…what bright spark came up with that branding idea!?)

While Cloud continues to be perceived in this way it is easy to see why enthusiasm is wavering.

Like any chasm crossing moment there are important business steps to follow and the communications strategies should be an integral of the process. The key focus areas should be:

1) Listening: demonstrate through your communications that you are listening to your customers and show you understand their challenges. While it is obvious to you that Cloud is the way forward, quite a large majority of the world don’t think that.

In fact they’re quite happy where they are and have grown up with a clear understanding of how to review, deploy and refresh their IT systems. Fundamentally you need to re-educate prospects on the ‘A to Z’ of IT strategy and implementation and that can’t be done while you’re thumping the pulpit.

2) Differentiation: be clear about what you do differently. For the cynics out there among the enterprise IT community (apparently there are one or two) all of the different acronyms and platforms just encourage individuals to roll their eyes. Case in point might be Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). Looking closely at the recent Gartner IaaS magic quadrant the term ‘hosting’ is used as often as any other, so what makes these folks different compared to traditional hosting services? Pardon me for this sweeping generalisation, but clarity when communicating a proposition is critical.

3) Avoid Cloud Fatigue: while I haven’t come up with the right equation yet I’m sure there is an extension to the Gartner Hype Cycle, which includes the role that celebrities play in the technology lifecycle – situations where they can provide a positive impactand others where they undermine the value of the latest new, new thing (eg: Paris Hilton on the iPhone4). Clearly, vendors looking to encourage further adoption of their technologies need to be careful of preaching. Customers are taking greater control of their IT strategies, refusing to be tied into long-term contracts, so there is even more need to engage with them in dialogue on their terms, listen to their perspectives and be seen to respond. If Cloud Computing is as agile as it says on the tin, then vendors have to be prepared to engage on these terms.