Cloud is a clear way to work together

The Silicon Valley Bank was set up to support entrepreneurial talent with flexible financial solutions, so it should come as no surprise the firm lets its employees run a range of software to assist them in their everyday activities.

Bindi Karia, vice president of accelerator solutions at SVB, says cloud-based productivity app Evernote acts as her “digital brain”, collecting and storing information as she travels around London and beyond to meet burgeoning startups.

The old ways aren’t completely gone. Even at SVB some continue to use paper rather than digital note-taking tools and secure e-mail continues to be the primary method for communicating with clients.

But the IT team at the bank has opened up a range of options for workers to create content, share it and collaborate on it, from Evernote to Microsoft’s OneNote to Box. “The way we work in the bank, a lot of deals have to be done in a team,” Ms Karia says. “The technology really has to enable us to work in a team.”

Despite the freedom permitted at SVB, employees can’t do whatever they want. Though it’s not a traditional financial institution, it remains a bank and so security is vital. “Security is the most important thing,” Ms Karia adds. “We care that data is private.”


This is symptomatic of a wider problem. IT chiefs continue to fret about employees or even vendors introducing security threats into the business and leaking valuable data going through cloud apps.

A Ponemon Institute survey of 1,059 IT and IT security professionals across Europe, sponsored by security firm Netskope, uncovered a “chronic mistrust of cloud vendors”. Nearly three quarters of respondents said they didn’t trust providers to obey data protection laws, while 64 per cent said their employer’s use of cloud services made it less likely they would be able to protect confidential information.

This distrust leads to policies such as those at SVB, where IT provides workers with a list of acceptable apps. Trouble looms for those who use non-ordained applications, a practice known as “shadow IT”, as many apps, especially those made for mobile, have been deemed vulnerable to hackers. A report backed by the UK privacy regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, found that out of 1,211 mobile apps reviewed, almost a third “appeared to request an excessive number of permissions to access additional personal information”.

Really big banking clients are even going to the cloud, which is interesting because they were very much anti in the early days

Yet the collaboration corner of the overall cloud market has matured enough for many to welcome the tools, though with arms akimbo, not wide open. As the myriad products on offer continue to widen feature sets, the vendors have upped their security promises in a bid to get business, for the benefit of all but criminal hackers. Even the most risk averse are attracted by the prospect of cloud collaboration.

Really big banking clients are even going to the cloud, which is interesting because they were very much anti in the early days,” says Angela Ashenden, analyst from MWD Advisors. “There are still some areas where it’s more of a challenge, but even healthcare companies are adopting cloud – these are areas that are very heavily regulated.”


Many organisations are now bragging about direct time and cost savings resulting from cloud collaboration technologies. The Department of Energy & Climate Change has used Huddle software as part of the rollout of smart meters to 30 million homes in the UK. The platform is used by 300 members of staff for communication and collaboration on a variety of processes, or “work streams”, including documentation on awards of contracts and notification of homeowners.

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But it extends beyond the government department to consumer groups, energy suppliers and their regulator Ofgem, so all parties can work together. The department estimates it is saving more than £100,000 annually in staff and other resources thanks to Huddle.

So rapid has the explosion of collaboration platforms been that it’s become tricky for employees and their bosses to determine which software provides genuine value over competitors. The list of vendors on the market outside the aforementioned is extensive – Microsoft Yammer, Zimbra, Jive, Tibco, Igloo, Tibbr and Salesforce Chatter, to name a few.

Where’s the differentiation then? For a while, the addition of social elements appeared to set some apart. But while Salesforce and IBM continue to toot their horns about social, chief executive of Huddle, Alastair Mitchell, believes this kind of collaboration was just “a quick trend that has disappeared” and companies now want a product that resembles simple consumer tools and scales well.

“What people think more about is broad-based collaboration platforms,” he says. “Firms – of 10,000 to 20,000 people – care about security… they also care about sharing lots of information with lots of people. What becomes important is the way one person within an organisation can work with another, even if there are tens of thousands of other people.

“The trick is to combine lightweight, ad hoc collaboration that is like consumer collaboration, with all the enterprise tools that allow you to work with many, many people.”

Although the financial and productivity benefits are undoubtedly alluring, anyone who still believes in the myth that all cloud tools will reinvigorate the business need to take stock. More cloud usage often requires greater bandwidth and a highly resilient network, both requiring investment. Any downtime at the cloud provider’s end can also prove costly if business is severely disrupted. On-premise solutions still prove attractive to more cautious organisations, despite cloud products’ rise, MWD Advisors’ Ms Ashenden cautions.

As with any techno-Utopian vision, the cloud comes with its flaws, even if it appears to provide answers to innumerable business problems.