IP, an unintended consequence of Cloud Computing
I was talking to Jason Lemkin, CEO of EchoSign the other day when something he said gave me an idea. EchoSign is a cool bit of SaaSware that manages the document signing process across the Web eliminating the need for sending copies of contracts overnight to complete deals.
There is a niche for this because no company that sells an on-demand product, for instance, can afford to overnight the volume of contracts needed to support the business. There simply isn’t enough margin in selling ten seats of your software and most SaaS deals are still of the small seat number variety. So along comes EchoSign and the problem becomes very cost effective to manage.
On top of the signing process, a product like EchoSign also provides long-term benefit by becoming the archive for the contract. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what the terms of a deal actually were, you know that can be very helpful.
But the point of this story is the C: Drive and all that it has come to mean. Everyone has a C: Drive, it’s where your stuff lives whether we’re talking about your PC at work or at home. I have an iMac and Apple calls the drive something else and I don’t remember what it is because I just turn the thing on and it works and I don’t mess with operating system stuff any more. It’s very liberating.
At any rate, Lemkin’s point is that the C: Drive has become a black hole because we don’t know what’s on it — you might know what’s on your C: Drive but you don’t know what’s on your office mates’ drives and they don’t know about yours. All this got me thinking that there is a heck of a lot of potential intellectual property hidden on the C: Drives of the world.
You could have a contract or a thousand on your C: Drive but your company might not know how to access them on the day you call in sick. Surely the networked Q: Drive would be better but many companies grow their computing infrastructure organically and you see where this is going. Yes, the intellectual property goes into a black hole.
Now, IP isn’t something that any of us has given a lot of thought to with regard to the operation of our work PC’s but maybe we should. Maybe the C: Drive and harvesting intellectual property are ideas whose time has come. There are companies already harvesting IP but maybe they don’t know it.
Companies like Kadient, Oracle and Salesforce.com all have facilities for capturing the IP generated by sales people in the sales process. Think about it, whenever you develop a presentation, a proposal or respond to an RFI or RFP, you are creating IP that is unique to your company. The IP is valuable only if it can be reused. Sales people do an OK job of reuse by trading things in email. But that’s one step removed from sneaker net. Imagine how much more effective they’d be if they stored things on a network drive and if there was functionality to also capture metadata (this presentation helped win three big deals)?
I am beginning to see the same kind of IP potential in service systems. Salesforce’s Service Cloud is a big IP generator and it has the cataloging and analytics you need to support reuse.
Of course, none of these ideas is going to change the world, but in an environment where we routinely seek to maximize value and utility, it strikes me that advanced systems based on cloud computing concepts and social media offer more than simply the usual litany of better, faster, cheaper. They expose value where there was none in the form of IP.
None of this says that cloud computing is the only way to derive this new value, as I said a network drive might work well in some instances. But cloud computing improves not just the storage of the IP but its re-use and it is in re-using what was done before that you derive additional value.
As I am looking at it, the ability to harvest IP from materials that were once stored in — oh, let’s call it the Chaos Drive — is a major unintended consequence and benefit found at the intersection of cloud computing social media and multi-tenancy.
Final thought, last week Apple introduced the iPad and immediately, wags started asking the inevitable pointless question — What’s it good for? I don’t know. But I do know that new products like that get the creative juices going in right brained people and it wouldn’t surprise me if, like cloud computing, iPad develops some unintended consequences/benefits. Can’t wait to see what they’ll be.