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Predictions for the year of the horse: it’s looking pretty cloudy

Posted: 02.05.14

It’s the year of the horse, and it’s pretty much anyone’s guess what that means for the year ahead, but it is a perfectly nifty device to hang an editorial on. There are the obvious associations. Horses are strong, they work hard, they have lots of energy, and they can be stubborn or committed depending on what you think of their plans. And according to various websites that profess to know, people born in the year of the horse have ingenious communication techniques, which I suppose could cover everything from Mr. Ed soliloquies to pawing the ground a few times to count.

So, now I have one prediction that I’m sure will come true. We are finding new ways to communicate and we’ll be using them more and more in 2014 onward. Sure, there is Intel’s interest in enabling people to wave at their computer in addition to touching it and typing, but this time around I’m thinking more of improved collaboration.

A great deal of this issue is concerned with software since last week was Solid¬Works World, but what seemed most revolutionary wasn’t CAD or design or PLM specifically, but rather the absolute sea change that has happened around professional users’ attitudes toward the cloud. Just one year ago, people would frequently swear they’d never allow their work to go to the cloud. Logic never had anything to do with this, of course. The same people would freely admit that they use Drop Box, they shop online, and they do their banking online, but no way would they trust their precious models or drawings in the wild world of the web.

So wait, you might ask, you’d risk your own personal fortune online while you shop and bank, but you’ll go to the wall to protect your boss’s view of the third-floor plans of a building in Wisconsin? What’s happening, of course, is that the boss is getting more comfortable with sharing data online, and it’s becoming clear that data could be safer in a well-designed cloud app than it is on a personal machine.

Note the use of the word “could” in this sense. We all know, or should know, that there is a lot of obfuscating going on as banks and credit card companies try to hide the reality that at the moment, they can’t protect your data. It’s cheaper to just pay up rather than add the necessary technology to beef up security … especially since there’s not much guarantee that new security measures will work, for long. But face it, there’s a lot more interest in credit card numbers and bank accounts than there is in design information—in most cases.

That’s why we’re seeing smaller companies gravitating to cloud solutions because the ability to access a slick product and collaborate online is more valuable than the threat that evil hacker people are going to steal a bracket design. Companies designing new cars and airplanes are not quite so sanguine. They’re not going to leap to an open cloud product any time soon, but they don’t need to either. The enterprise giants can afford to build their own digital universes in the sky along with the bank and credit card companies.

For all that, collaboration is incredibly valuable. Companies have globalized for economic advantage and they risk losing any gain they’ve made to communication delays and missed hand-offs. That’s one reason why, at the start of 2014, it has been like everyone just woke up and said, oh hey, let’s try out this cloud stuff.

Maybe what’s coming isn’t all that ingenious; rather, it’s natural. It makes sense to communicate with computers through natural interaction, and it makes sense to communicate with co-workers as you’re working rather than send packaged-up information like so many inter-office manila envelopes.

The companies that have the most to fear aren’t those creating content but toolmakers with big legacy obligations. The ability to build and deploy apps in the cloud with turnkey services from Amazon and Google, et al., opens up distribution to a bunch of cowboys and cowgirls. Some of them are going to do amazing things. That’s guaranteed.

So, to go back to the Chinese astrological sites, all that is pretty darned horsey. Horses are willing to take risks, they can be impulsive, they like entertainment, they like large crowds, they’re popular. Really, who doesn’t like a dancing Lipizzaner at a party?

We’ve all had enough of recession, belt-tightening, and no jobs, so all this talk of hard work and indulgent re¬wards does sound like just the ticket. We’re saddling up.