Martin’s Weblog

Cloud the Issues

This blog discusses cloud computing in relation to organisational culture and the forms of cloud computing that may be adopted as a result.

The issues with cloud computing are the same issues that have existed on the Internet since it was created issues of identity as constructed through relationships to control and ownership. This shouldn’t be surprising as the term “cloud computing” is after all based upon the network symbol for the Internet.

Relationships to control and ownership are formed through specific requirements such as legal obligations and through psychology.   

Approaching Cloud – First Impressions describes some of the system types available for cloud computing – they can be regarded as if on a continuum from the more traditional “product on-site” approach (not really cloud) through to a fully MASHED DIY approach.

Those who wish or need to assert identity through strong control and ownership of information are unlikely to feel comfortable with the concepts of cloud computing and would be most comfortable with traditional “product on-site” adoptions. Such individuals or organisation may also find hosted products with appropriate Service Level Agreements acceptable.

 Those who are or can be more relaxed about control and ownership may feel  comfortable with approaches from mid range cloud services approaches from Microsoft live@edu or Google apps for education  through to the more extreme Mashup Corporation, Mesh Collaboration or ideas of Clay Shirky  in “Here Comes Everybody” which web 2 and cloud computing make possible.

One of the most frequently discussed issues when talking about the use of Cloud computing in teaching is that of ownership of teaching materials whether these belong to the organisation or to the teacher or some form of shared ownership in between. If the organisation exerts control and ownership over materials then an IT system which allows this control must be implemented – most likely product on-site installs, hosted systems or possibly an organisational controlled cloud system such as  Microsoft live@edu or Google apps for education . Where the individual control and ownership is agreed then teachers’ personal resources can be used and MASHED in. Where DIY MASHUP is used then the organisation has to consider what happens if/when the individual leaves, changes  or withdraws material and what that individual publishes in public space – these are as you might appreciate issues of identity as expressed through ownership and control.  It is easier to exert an identity if you control and own the medium and the collection of messages available on the medium. Organisations which allow a MASH of personal DIY lose the ability to control the messages – they have to trust their people and truly become the sum of the parts.

The advantage of exerting control is that you can exert a clear identity – a particular “mission statement” in a particular style. This suites a “command and control” style of management and is effective where there are clear objectives and outcomes – it is particularly suited to sectors where known repetitive and fixed operations are required. The disadvantage is that the organisation is less flexible than it could be – everything is pointed in the same direction and may not see the changes coming up behind – good for when you know where you are going but not suited for activities where you need to adapt to the unexpected – where you don’t know where you are let alone where you are going – by this I am referring to areas where invention, innovation and creativity are required.

Relaxing control and ownership offers the advantages of a dynamic flexible organisation defined by its members. This suites a flat, networked, “self organising” style of management  – such an organisation may be difficult to point in one direction but able to see in many directions, to generate multiple ideas and be flexible – such an organisation is best suited to invention, innovation and research. The disadvantage of course is that identity is expressed dynamically through the activity of members which can lead to fragmentation and anarchy.

All organisations are different and will accommodate and assimilate technologies and opportunities according to their unique culture. In my opinion education is about recognising individual differences and developing individual potentials and as such I argue that educational organisations should be relatively relaxed with control and identity – that they should be considering their unique approaches to personal DIY systems for the near future.  The technology exists and continues to develop but is the psychology there?


December 14, 2008 - Posted by | cloud, education, IT and education | , ,

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