Across industries, companies scrambling to respond to the pressures of the pandemic saw a tool for differentiation in the cloud. It allowed businesses to spin up new services, quickly transform offered products or pivot to new markets as they saw fit.
The experience morphed how businesses will envision cloud going forward. Businesses now hitch their hopes to the cloud, turning to its services to steward newfound organizational goals.
"Cloud has fundamentally taken a different form post-COVID[-19], where cloud is more of a transformational capability for organizations," said Karthik Narain, lead of Accenture Cloud First, speaking Wednesday at CES 2021.
If COVID-19 taught businesses that change is the only constant, then cloud is the tool that "provides the elasticity that one requires to scale up or down in their business" in response to those changes, said Narain.
The desire to increase cloud reliance is manifest in how companies set up their 2021 IT budgets. More than half of executives say they plan to increase their investments in Amazon Web Services, Salesforce, Google or other cloud services in 2021, according to Flexera's 2021 State of Tech Spend Report.
"Downturn often breeds a new wave of innovation," said Brian Comiskey, manager, industry intelligence at the Consumer Technology Association. The pandemic propelled a rapid shift toward "an economy that is more digital, automated, remote-capable and efficient," said Comiskey. Cloud is the backbone to that shift.
Embracing cloud can also signify an opportunity to experiment with changes in IT infrastructure without the need to fully commit to them.
"The power and productivity of the cloud platform is the capacity to leverage new innovation before it's actually fully deployed," said Edna Conway, VP, global security, risk & compliance, Azure at Microsoft. "You can test it out. It can actually be a sandbox."
Another impact of the pandemic was leaders realizing that the cloud could help transform their companies into an innovation enterprise, according to Narain. It can help businesses speed the rate of innovation through the range of add-on services that customers can tap into. Through onboard services in the cloud, companies can create new capabilities and launch them faster into the market, he said.
"They are able to do all this through consuming these services rather than building these ground up," said Narain.
AI in particular will drive forward cloud adoption, a trend already underway but accelerated by the pandemic. Cloud-based use is projected to increase fivefold by 2023, according to Gartner projections, making AI one of the top workloads running in the cloud.
"The cloud topic has moved from just a CIO agenda to a CEO, C-suite agenda," Narain said. "It fundamentally readies an organization to face the future and go on offense rather than on defense."