Most technologies aren’t really “tools,” as many people call them. They’re “enablers.” Let’s take the Internet, for example. The Internet doesn’t do anything by itself. It’s what’s connected to it—what you do with it—that makes it powerful.

In that same way, the cloud is really an enabler. The cloud itself has no value. It’s what you do with the cloud that makes it valuable. As I like to say, “It’s not the tool that matters; it’s how you use it.”

The cloud, which refers to companies using remote servers that store data and allow users to access information from anywhere, takes three different evolutionary forms. Most of us first started using a public cloud provided by companies such as Microsoft, Google, or Apple, where we stored documents remotely on their servers, or we used a cloud service like Flickr to store and share photos.

The private cloud soon followed when companies wanted to provide employees secure access to company files from any device anywhere. Since it’s private, the public does not have access and security is easier to enable. Midsize and large companies have been rapidly establishing private clouds for several years now.

It didn’t take long to see the private/public cloud emerge—also called a hybrid cloud. In this configuration, you have a private part of your corporate cloud that is secure and only accessible by employees, and you have a part of the cloud that is public where strategic partners, vendors, and customers can access limited content.

All three types of clouds are growing and thriving rapidly. And all three enable us to produce massive amounts of data. In fact, just imagine all the data we get from social websites, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Then you have all of the additives being connected and brought in by sensors that are embedded. For example, today there are sensors embedded in concrete in bridges so we know when the cement is cracking, not to mention sensors that are embedded on product shelves. In other words, we have massive amounts of data coming in all the time—from websites, smart phone, embedded sensors, video, etc.—which is creating a tsunami of data that offers key insights, as well as the ability to identify problems in new and powerful ways.

For example, a children’s hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was noticing an increasing number of children coming in with a rare and specific type of respiratory problem. They didn’t know why; they simply knew they had more cases than other hospitals. Because of the data available to them, they were able to discover that all the infected children lived in the same part of the city and in the same three apartment complexes. So they analyzed their data even more and discovered that the three apartment complexes were situated next to a certain factory. Again, more data mining revealed that this factory was using a particular chemical known to trigger the respiratory problem, and that the chemical was being leaked out into the air.

Thanks to the cloud and the data it produced, this hospital was able to dig down and solve the problem. That’s just one example of what the tool can enable. When you combine the advanced data and analytics with the cloud, that’s when you get new solutions to problem and when you can see opportunities.

Good versus Bad Data

Realize there are two types of data the cloud is enabling: Good data and bad data. As more and more data comes in, it’s going to be increasingly important to separate the good data from the bad data so we aren’t drawing the wrong conclusions.

For example, I work with many hospitals. In talking with the CEOs and lead physicians, they’ve shared that now that they are using electronic medical records, all of the doctors now input (type) their notes during the actual visit rather than do a quick audio recording and get it transcribed later as they used to do. The problem for the doctors is that they’re not given extra time to do this on-the-spot data input. This means they are often entering the data very quickly.

The ePatient record is supposedly smart, meaning it draws conclusions by itself and pre-enters some of the fields that the doctor doesn’t even see. So not only are the doctors entering less than complete information quickly (because they have many patients to see), but we also have the program inputting data on its own. So are we creating good data, or just a lot of data?

I recently saw one of my medical reports and noticed that it said I had a problem that I really didn’t have. I contacted the doctor and he said, “The computer did that. It was an error. I’ll fix it.” That’s what we call bad data. Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens regularly. So we need to look at all the data the cloud is enabling us to collect and make sure it’s good data, not bad data.

A Great Service Enabler

Aside from enabling the collection of data, the cloud is also enabling many technology services that help companies grow and save money. For example, recently Revlon moved 500 of its IT applications to a secure private cloud. By doing this, they saved $70 million within two years. And because these applications were now all in the cloud, they were able to distribute and update their applications far better and faster than they could have before. So they not only saved $70 million in two years, but they were also able to do things they couldn’t have done before.

But it’s not just big companies taking advantage of the cloud and what’s known as Software as a Service (SaaS). Thanks to the cloud, small companies have been able to get enterprise-level software (even as few as one seat at a time). This means they access the software as needed without actually buying it, updating it, or maintaining it.

The cloud is also enabling hardware as a service (Haas). An example would be Amazon’s cloud that individuals and companies can use. Amazon is just one example of cloud-based services. IBM, Microsoft, Google, and others offer similar services. And let’s not forget other cloud enabled services such as collaboration as a service, networking as a service, infrastructure as a service, and IT as a service.

It’s a giant shift from IT ownership to expensed services that can save companies a lot of time and money. It’s renting versus buying, which is a very powerful shift that the cloud is enabling. And at the same time, these companies are able to increase security, rather than decrease security, something that early versions of the cloud couldn’t do.

The Cloud Enabled Revolution

The cloud will continue to be a powerful enabling tool. In fact, think of it as a social, mobile, visual, virtual, revolution that the cloud, as well as other enabling tools like high-speed networks, is giving us. So where are you in the revolution? Have you joined? Are you dipping your foot in the water yet? Have you seen the future, and are you moving toward it?

The cloud enabled revolution is here. Don’t be left behind.