This paper describes salient issues in cloud computing capable of facilitating innovation in organisations. The holy grail of the attainment of sustained competitive advantage has long featured in business strategy and has been heavily discussed over the last few decades in both the management and information systems literature bases, with emerging technologies and computing paradigms considered as potential key enablers. Cloud computing may offer a new architecture in fostering innovation. Recently it has been argued that “the real strength of cloud computing is that it is a catalyst for innovation and in keeping with Moore’s Law, as cloud computing becomes more cheaper and ubiquitous further opportunities for innovation will manifest” (Brynjolfsson, Hofmann and Jordan, 2010). Focusing on the potential value to organisations of cloud computing, in this paper we outline particular aspects of contemporary concern to organisations innovating for competitive advantage, and we identify a set of topical areas in the cloud space requiring further research effort by the information systems community.
Although neither the premise nor the foundations of cloud computing are new (Gong, Liu, Zhang, Chen and Gong, 2010), cloud computing represents a set of emerging technologies, implementations and ecosystems that are still rapidly evolving. Cloud computing has built its foundations “on decades of research in virtualisation, distributed computing, utility computing, networking and more recently web and software services” (Vouk, 2008). Indeed, cloud computing represents a shift to computing as a service that is provisioned to users typically over the internet via large scale data centres or ‘clouds’. Although cloud computing is growing in popularity at a phenomenal pace, with more and more businesses implementing various aspects of it to help deliver on strategic goals, academic research remains lagging behind rapid developments in the field, an issue first raised almost half a decade ago (for a discussion, see Sriram and Khajeh-Hosseini, 2010). Further research is warranted into cloud computing to enable organisations make informed decisions about which aspects, implementations and solutions may be most suitable to their needs, as vehicles for innovation, delivery on business goals, and facilitators of competitive advantage. We followed a systematic approach to the existing literature as per established guidelines (Bandara, Miskon and Fielt, 2011; Kitchenham, 2004; Levy and Ellis, 2006), spanning 2007 to present. Our keyword searches included initial early classifiers such as cloud computing, elastic computing, and utility computing; we also included the more categorical search terms Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS). Although the first public clouds were launched in 2005, we note the appearance of peer-reviewed papers in 2007. For the review, and in particular to capture some of the discourse about cloud computing outside mainstream journals and before some journals explicitly included the topic in their interest areas, we included some conference proceedings, technical reports, market trend analyses and workshop papers. Using a lens of innovation-enabling and routes to competitive advantage, we focus on and identify aspects of cloud computing capable of offering value to organisations without invasive surgery to their operational processes or strategic direction. Findings indicate value in particular cloud services, with dependencies on implementation and coupling to strategic goals. Further, indications support organisational concerns on security, and other concerns typically prevalent in applications outsourcing. The paper concludes with recommendations regarding initial traversal of cloud-based potential for organisations intent on paddling rather than diving into cloud computing as a vehicle for innovation.