Cloud computing can change organisations – whether they like it or not

Even for organisations who avoid the adoption of cloud computing, its impact can be felt, and they too can face significant challenges from the adoption of cloud outside their perceived citadel. This is perhaps most obviously demonstrated with the case of Sukey.org.

In January 2011 the streets of London echoed to the sound of students campaigning against the imposition of tuition fees. Tens of thousands poured into the streets to make their voices heard, and the police, desperate to avoid the vandalism and violence of a protest in November the year before, attempted to use a “kettling” technique.

Kettling involves the police confining the demonstrators into a small area such as a square. Once trapped the police simply wait – keeping the demonstrators until they are tired and hungry and just want to go home. The police’s ability to kettle students thus involves their coordinating themselves to encircle the demonstrators – for which they rely on sophisticated (and expensive) communications infrastructure involving radios, control-centres and helicopters (within their organisational firewall).

But at this protest some of the students had installed a smartphone application called “Sukey” created by integrating (mashing-up) a number of cloud based services (Economist 2011) (See sidebar to understand the name).

Sukey.org used social media to allow those on the ground to report the movements of protesters and police through twitter and social networks. These reports were then catalogued on a Google-map – accessible by protesters using their smartphones. The application (build quickly by a small number of students) harnessed cloud computing and the mobile phone infrastructure to provide the protesters with a sophisticated information infrastructure similar to that of the police. This system was believed to limit the ability of the police to kettle the protesters – as they quickly moved through side-streets to avoid the police cordons.

This example shows how the police force was challenged, and their abilities constrained by a small group harnessing the “cloud” despite the police’s investment in information and communications technology. This shows that the availability of cloud computing deterministically altered what it is to police, despite the fact that the police had not changed their own infrastructure. It shows how organisations boundaries can become blurred as a consequence of outside action exploiting cloud.

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