Survey Reveals most Americans could use Better Education on Cloud Computing

By Peter Bernstein August 28, 2012

For those of us who are tech savvy we cannot seem to escape the 24/7/365 marketing drumbeat for “E”verything cloud. It almost is an incentive to go “off-grid.” Not a day goes by without a new survey of IT asset managers being issued that tout cloud adoption rates and the benefits to business of putting their minds, hearts and wallets in the cloud.  What we have not seen, until now, what end users think and feel when they hear the words “cloud” or “cloud computing.” 

The good folks at Citrix set out to get some answers. They commissioned Wakefield Research to delve into the subject. The survey results, based on interviews with 1,000 average Americans during the month of August, provide some fascinating insights.  

The good news is those relatively knowledgeable about the cloud have good feelings about it. They believe the convenience provided is valuable. They also see it as a catalyst for small business growth.

The bad news is many think the cloud is about the weather, or a host of other things. Further, many who think they know a little bit about the cloud believe, 51 percent, that bad weather could adversely impact their use of the cloud. In short, it is time for the industry to pay attention to end-user education and close the wide gap that exists between what the cloud is and does versus what average people think it is and can deliver. This is important opportunity that commands attention here.        

“The survey says!”

Let’s start, pardon the expression, at an up in the clouds level. As noted in the survey:

 “Nearly one third of respondents see the cloud as a thing of the future, yet 97 percent are actually using cloud services today via online shopping, banking, social networking and file sharing. Despite this confusion, three in five (59 percent) believe the “workplace of the future” will exist entirely in the cloud, which indicates people feel it’s time to figure out the cloud or risk being left behind in their professional lives.”

Digging deeper highlights that disconnect between what Americans know, what they pretend to know, and what they actually do when it comes to cloud computing.  

Key findings, and fun facts, from the survey include:

People feign knowledge about the cloud: 22 percent admitted they’ve pretended to know what the cloud is or how it works. Some of the false claims take place during work hours, with one third saying they fake an understanding of the cloud in the office and another 14 percent doing so during a job interview. Interestingly, an additional 17 percent have pretended to know what the cloud was during a first date. Younger Americans are most likely to pretend to be in the know (36 percent ages 18-29, 18% percent ages 30 and older), as are Americans in the West (28 percent West, 22 percent U.S.)

You’re not alone: While many admit ignorance, 56 percent said they think other people refer to cloud computing in conversation when they really don’t know what they are talking about.

What is it? When asked what “the cloud” is, a majority responded it’s either an actual cloud (specifically a “fluffy white thing”), the sky or something related to the weather (29 percent). Only 16 percent said they think of a computer network to store, access and share data from Internet-connected devices.

Here is where perception and reality depart.

Many use it, few understand it:

  • A majority of Americans (54 percent) claim to never use cloud computing
  •  95 percent of this group actually does use the cloud:  65 percent bank online, 63 percent shop online, 58 percent use social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, 45 percent have played online games, 29 percent store photos online, 22 percent store music or videos online, and 19 percent use online file-sharing. All of these services are cloud based. Even when people don’t think they’re using the cloud, they really are.

Can the cloud save the economy? Even though many Americans don’t know exactly what the cloud does, they see its silver lining. Most Americans (68 percent) recognize the economic benefits after learning more about the cloud. The most recognized benefits are that the cloud helps consumers by lowering costs (35 percent), spurs small business growth (32 percent) and boosts customer engagement for businesses (35 percent). Millennials are most likely to believe that the cloud generates jobs (26 percent Millennials, 19 percent Boomers).

Softer advantages, like working from home in the buff: People offered additional, unexpected benefits of the cloud, including the ability to access work information from home in their “birthday suit” (40 percent); tanning on the beach and accessing computer files at the same time (33 percent); keeping embarrassing videos off of their personal hard drive (25 percent); and sharing information with people they’d rather not interact with in person (35 percent).

Concerns include cost, security, privacy: Despite these advantages, Americans still have reasons why they limit their use of cloud computing or avoid it entirely. Among those who hardly ever or never use the cloud, the top three deterrents are cost (34 percent), security concerns (32 percent) and privacy concerns (31 percent).

In releasing the results of the survey Kim DeCarlis, vice president of corporate marketing at Citrix, noted that: “This survey clearly shows that the cloud phenomenon is taking root in our mainstream culture, yet there is still a wide gap between the perceptions and realities of cloud computing…The most important takeaway from this survey is that the cloud is viewed favorably by the majority of Americans, and when people learn more about the cloud they understand it can vastly improve the balance between their work and personal lives.”

In discussing the results with Ms. DeCarlis, I was curious as to why Citirix was so interested in initiating the survey. She said, “We think that knowledge expansion is important. Once people are educated as to what the cloud is and does they immediately recognize the value of its ability to expand their knowledge and do things that previously were unimaginable.” In short, it encourages longer and more intimate engagement which obviously is good for business.

She also introduced me to a concept that is gaining some traction in the industry that I had not heard before. My suspicion is it will likely become part of the lexicon, Constant Personal Attention. 

Loosely translated what it refers to is the ability of the always on/all ways accessible connected world to enable people to have their personal volition satisfied in instantaneous and compelling ways. This is not just for transactional purposes, i.e., being able to rapidly comparison shop. It also relates to the ability to explore in detail more about the things we are curious or passionate about. A large component is also having the ability to share or get meaningful input from/with friends, family and colleagues.

Constant Personal Attention is an interesting way of recognizing what futurist Alvin Toffler called “The Market of One,” several decades ago. Another way of saying it is that, “It is all about ME!” 

However, it is all us not in a pejorative sense relating to self-absorption or self-aggrandizement. In fact, as if not more importantly, it should be viewed from a self-improvement context. It also speaks to the true transformational aspects of the Internet where the ability to obtain more information has forever shifted the relationships between buyer and sellers in favor of the buyers — a trend cloud services put on steroids by increasing customer information reach and forcing improved seller focus on the customer experience.

At the end of the day, Citrix has done the industry a valuable service, because as the late discount clothier innovator in the New York area, Sy Syims, used to tout in his commercials, “An educated consumer is our best customer.”

 As with the London subway system, it is time for the tech industry to “mind the gap.”     

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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