When it comes to cloud computing, the IT industry may need to think more broadly. The shift of all of the bits and bytes of IT into the cloud can be hugely transformational – a momentous shift in the way the world works. Yet early customers seem focused on cost efficiency and server streamlining, to the point that they may not have a broad enough vision for what else is possible.
The exceptions have a lot to teach others, as the example of Sense Worldwide in London demonstrates.
The creative powerhouse
Sense Worldwide is a creative strategic consultancy, whose core business proposition relies entirely on cloud computing.
The company, which works with some of the biggest global brands – including Nike, Philips, Johnson & Johnson and Vodafone – uses an eminently flexible virtual network to dynamically connect teams of experts and consumers from across the globe which its clients can draw on as a source of product feedback and new ideas.
Sense's clients are typically so ahead of their game that their only real challengers in their given markets are themselves. Maintaining and sharpening their market lead depends on keeping ideas fresh.
Since the company started, Sense has recruited a 'co-creation community' of over 2,000 subject experts and sounding boards, ranging from a Pagan witch and nuclear scientist to a BAFTA-winning documentary maker. These are in addition to freelance professionals who are at the top of their game in branding, marketing and design. They share their ideas for the kudos of showing what they can do in front of their peers, as much as for the remuneration they receive.
Freed from location, and fully empowered by the ability to share the richest possible blend of media online, individual creative groups can be dynamically connected and tapped into at any time - as with the underlying servers that connect them. All of this happens virtually, harnessing the multimedia-rich collaboration forums Sense has developed.
The Pagan witch and nuclear scientist came on board during a project about air fresheners, as Sense's director of strategy, Brian Millar, explains. "The witch performs air purification rituals as part of her belief system, so we recruited her to provide insight about what is put into the air to create particular moods. The scientist, who is responsible for air purity in nuclear power plants, came from a completely different perspective. Being able to put the two together created a very interesting dialogue about caring for the air."
Dynamic focus groups
In addition to these experts, Sense also recruits groups of targeted consumers who are rewarded for letting clients closely monitor the way they live their lives and use their products. Participants are sent a cheap digital video camera and asked to blog about their thoughts and experiences, giving the respective brand owners an unprecedented insight into their lives, interests and behavior.
"The ROI for the client is so much greater because, instead of getting one burst of ideas from a single session, they're getting a continual stream of input."
For Nike, Sense tracks a group of 'Football-Obsessed Teens', for example, gaining an in-depth insight into what football means to them and how they express this in their daily lives.
Cloud at the core
Cloud computing is at the core of Sense's innovative social networks, because there are no limitations to the capacity of the supporting systems. The company, which recently attracted the attention of Harvard Business Review, uses a cloud service and an open-source based, cloud-driven software tool .
Says director of strategy, Brian Millar, "We can scale the network up or down as needed, which is important when you're dealing with rich-media content – video diaries, blogs, creative images and so on – which consumes a lot of capacity."
Translation tools enable participants to share input in their own language, while being understood internationally.
The results of Sense's dynamic collaborations can be impressive. When a 'co-creation' community identified a flaw with the packaging of Splenda, a sweetener produced by Johnson & Johnson – ie that it looked too 'medical' – the resulting makeover (pictured) resulted in a doubling of UK sales, Millar reports.
"The ROI for the client is so much greater because, instead of getting one burst of ideas from a single session, they're getting a continual stream of input," he concludes. "That's crucial in today's fast-paced world where companies must reinvent themselves almost continuously to stay ahead."
Sue Tabbitt is a freelance IT & business journalist located in the UK
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