In marketing terminology, a killer application or “killer app” is any computer program that is so necessary or desirable that it proves the core value of some larger technology. Throughout history, there have only been a handful of killer apps, most notably the word processor, spreadsheet and email. Think about that, email as the killer app did not really take hold until after the rise of the internet, and that has been over 20 years ago. A couple decades is a long drought between killer applications. But, in my opinion, the wait is over . . . if we expand our definition a bit, the new killer app is the cloud. Let me explain.

In my book, Achieving Process Profitability, Building the IT Profit Center, I argued against the concept of IT as a cost center and instead put forth the viewpoint of the single, universal and undeniable mission of IT. Succinctly stated, the mission of IT within a business is to make that business operate more efficiently, effectively and PROFITABLY. Take the example of the spreadsheet, VisiCalc, which was described as “reason enough for owning a computer.” Spreadsheet programs were so valuable to companies that it easily justified the considerable expense of buying and operating a personal computer. Today, when I am faced with this kind of attitude of IT as a cost center, I do not even bother arguing. I simply agree and state that, yes, the company should replace all of its computers with typewriters. I tend to get strange looks in response, but it also tends to end the discussion.

I believe that the cloud provides as much, if not more, value to business than the spreadsheet, word processor or email and has the potential to drive the final nail into the coffin of the perception of IT as a cost center. Let’s face it, the reason IT gets saddled with the cost-center mentality is due to the large capital outlays in hardware and software licensing, along with the considerable salaries related to installing, configuring and maintaining those resources over time. In addition, as systems have increased in complexity, the time to value for businesses has increased dramatically because today’s systems require much more hardware, software and technical expertise to configure and properly maintain. None of this is good for the perception of IT as a profit center rather than a cost center.

The cloud offers a way out of this trap because the cloud is something that is so necessary and desirable that it proves the core value of nothing less than IT itself. With the cloud, time to value of deploying complex systems decreases dramatically. Take deploying Hadoop, for instance. To stand up a Hadoop cluster takes weeks or even months if done on-premises and consumes considerable hardware resources constantly. Not to mention the amount of research and training required to even learn how to properly install and configure a Hadoop cluster. Conversely, with something like Microsoft’s cloud service, Azure, one can stand up a Hadoop cluster in mere minutes. Minutes.

Unfortunately, I have seen firsthand the resistance to the cloud within IT, as well as the concern over loss of control and loss of a job. For me, this just shows that IT has lost its way and forgotten its true mission.

Today’s IT stands upon the precipice of finally throwing off the shackles of the cost center mindset, and the pathway to doing that is through the cloud. As IT professionals, let us not fall prey to fear, uncertainty and doubt. The cloud will not eliminate our jobs, but rather allow us to focus on things that provide true business value. Let us remember that our mission is not to install and configure hardware and software or rule over our individual fiefdoms, but rather to make a business operate more efficiently, effectively and PROFITABLY. To that end, the cloud is truly the killer app of our time.

Originally posted June 13, 2016

Updated March 2, 2018