We are now of the generation where software apps outsell music, even movies. What’s making this possible? It’s the cloud. So what will this mean for our future working lives?
At the recent BUILD conference in California where Microsoft’s next operating system, Windows 8, was demoed publicly for the first time, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer hit the nail on the head in terms of the new software landscape that is emerging, thanks to the cloud.
"The developer community is multiplying from the hard-core developers that may be 10m people to over 100m people around the planet writing apps, and the chance to do more and profit economically is growing."
For most businesses, the cloud so far has been either public cloud platforms, such as software-as-a-service (SaaS) products like Salesforce.com, and lately the integration of a traditional line of business applications behind the private cloud.
But, thanks to the emergence of delivery channels for software like the Apple App Store, the Android Marketplace and the forthcoming Windows Store, this new trend of getting mobile, tablet and desktop apps via the cloud is as much an opportunity for businesses that need technology as it is for developers.
Less than four years ago, the Apple iPhone came along and created a new way of buying software. To date, some 15bn apps have been downloaded and the Apple App Store reached the 10bn milestone in January of this year.
"We want you to be able to sell apps, services, content and data, single transaction or subscription, to consumers and enterprises and make money from the work you’ve done. We will be taking the cost and complexity out of deployment – so you can put your apps and services in front of customers and charge correctly. It is super important to us – you can bet on that," said Ballmer at BUILD in September. He added that 350m Windows devices will be sold this year.
One of the key platforms Microsoft has developed for the cloud is Windows Azure, which is enabling thousands of companies around the world to create products and sell them globally. As well as this, more than 500 local firms have signed up for the company’s BizSpark programme to sell software globally via the cloud.
An example of an Irish technology company that has taken to the Azure platform is online accounts firm Big Red Book, which has developed an online version of its technology that will result in its 16,500 registered users’ work in the cloud.
Managing director Marc O’Dwyer explains: "We’ve been in business for 19 years and know how important it is to change and adapt.
"One of the main reasons we moved to the cloud was because we wanted to become an export company. We went to look at a platform provider for the cloud that would suit our business, and every box was ticked by Azure.
"Currently, our software will work in any country with the same accounting rules as Ireland so that makes it 52 countries we are available in right away. The fact that it is in the cloud means it is accessible anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
"If something happened and the data centre where our software is stored went offline, we know that my data and my customers’ applications are replicated in other data centres around the world," O’Dwyer adds.
Some 75pc of businesses are in the process of moving to a subscription-based purchasing model for key applications, a move that ties in well with Apple’s launch of the Mac App Store and the forthcoming launch of the Windows Store.
The rise of the subscription economy is driving changes in businesses’ back office systems, says CloudSense. A poll of 100 senior IT managers in UK enterprises (minimum 1,000 employees) on their thoughts about purchasing business applications via subscription rather than through capital investments highlighted that 75pc of UK businesses have either deployed, or are in the process of deploying, a subscription-based purchasing model for some or all of their business applications.
"We are currently seeing the rise of a subscription economy, where consumers buy goods and services via subscription, rather than as one-off capital expenditures," explains Richard Britton, managing director at CloudSense.
"The popularity of services such as Spotify, Zipcar and even Boris Bikes underlines this trend. This is largely driven by the greater choice, reduced cost and flexibility that subscription services can provide to consumers. The subscription economy is growing fast and those businesses that cannot react quickly enough to take advantage of it will be left behind."
The opportunities for businesses and developers is clear. Locally, Irish cloud software company Lucey Technology has created a €750,000 investment fund to support new or existing software companies that are looking to bring cloud-based projects to market. In one recent investment, the company Lucey invested in completed a €500,000 funding round of which €150,000 was earmarked for development.
In another key development, IT firm Fort Technologies is to create 10 new jobs as part of a new €1.36m investment supported by Enterprise Ireland. The company is collaborating with DataSolutions to deliver its new cloud service: SilverLine. The service will see a portfolio of cloud services delivered to end customers through an innovative IT channel model that complements the traditional structure of the IT service industry, according to DataSolutions.
The company’s technical director, Francis O’Haire, explains: "We found that the IT channel in Ireland is best placed to work with companies who deliver IT and services. As a distribution company, we needed to be in a position to enable the IT channel to bring innovative solutions to their customers.
"SilverLine is an industry-only offer that’s there to empower the IT channel with local knowledge, service and security within Ireland because for businesses it is important to know where their data lives.
"This is not just one service. We’re building a portfolio of cloud services and technologies we’ll be bringing through the channel to the Irish business community," O’Haire adds.