The cloud isn’t just for techies anymore.

By 2016, cloud computing will be more important to other business leaders within a company than to tech execs. In fact, these leaders say the cloud’s strategic importance to them will double to 72% from 34% -- blowing past their tech counterparts at 58%, according to a new IBM study.

Why? It’s about beating the competition.

Executives in other corporate departments -- whether they are in finance, sales, or product development -- are realizing that the power of the cloud goes far beyond just making operations more efficient. Instead, leading companies are rolling out cloud projects that help them gain a competitive advantage through strategic business reinvention or deeper collaboration.

And they have the business results to show for it. These pacesetters report that the cloud is helping them respond more quickly to changing customer needs and market shifts, expand into new markets, and target untapped segments, according to the global study of 800 cloud decision makers and users conducted by IBM’s Center for Applied Insights and Oxford Economics.

In many ways, cloud computing is following the same pattern of other technologies that have shaped business and society. Take electricity, for example. Even after the first public power supply lit the streets, it took time for businesses to learn how to revamp their processes to make the most of this innovation.


Company leaders are now working through this transition with cloud. Many have seen first hand the efficiencies you can gain through using the cloud. But as they experiment more, they’re quickly seizing on the profound implications the technology can have for how enterprises make money and compete. The cloud is helping these leading companies in very specific ways:

Strategic reinvention: For cutting-edge adopters, the cloud provides an escape route from the status quo. It’s helping them understand customers better by letting them dig through a broader, richer array of Big Data to tease out customer preferences and deliver more relevant offers.

By using the cloud, they’re speeding up product and service innovation though stronger collaboration and adding new features to their offerings. For example, take a navigation system in a car, portable GPS device, or smartphone. Connected to the cloud, that service can offer even more by using cloud-based analytics that mine crowd-sourced traffic data to reroute drivers around road construction and traffic jams on the fly.

Most remarkably, though, more than half of these pacesetters say they’ve revamped their business model because of the cloud. With access to more data and expertise, organizations can create new revenue streams and enter untapped markets.

Better decision making: To out maneuver rivals, leaders search for insights that competitors don’t see. That’s why companies are turning to cloud-based analytics to dig for insights buried inside Big Data. Two-thirds say the cloud plays a pivotal role in helping them make data-driven decisions. With the technology, they can feed their analytics more raw data  -- and provide computing capacity for a broader analysis of data. These companies also understand the power of connecting their data together, which all too often is scattered across segregated servers and employee hard drives. The cloud helps knit information together to spur fresh insights, which can be distributed to more folks within an organization.

Target, for instance, is using cloud-based analytical services to improve margins along with merchandising and marketing decisions. In particular, the retailer can now see patterns in customer segments, whether it’s shoppers interested in health and wellness or in feeding their families high-end, gourmet meals. So Target can tailor assortments, promotions, and pricing for different customers rather than serving everyone en masse.

Deeper Collaboration: Leading cloud adopters are using the cloud to connect people. Nearly 60% say they’re achieving higher levels of collaboration through the cloud. Even more use the cloud to find and tap expertise within their organizations. And these leading organizations are taking advantage of cloud-based collaboration to help eliminate silos. That’s helping them bring together masses of collaborators, spread knowledge faster, and draw on the collective wisdom of the crowd.

Forward-looking businesses are also using allowing employees to use social networking tools on mobile devices at work. Employees can more easily find their colleagues who are experts to help them, and in some cases, more rapidly close deals.

It’s not that any of the work that these organizations is doing is easy. Some 44% of the folks we surveyed believe the cloud introduces greater complexity into their organizations. But cutting-edge companies are committing themselves to work through these challenges because they’re seeing first hand the concrete results the cloud provides.