Q&A: Charlie Cowan, CEO, Keboko

Launched only in September 2010, Keboko is a Cloud Service Provider. It helps businesses of all sizes grow and thrive by moving their business applications into the Cloud. The company is passionate about technology, but is even more passionate about business. Its partners include leading Cloud vendors such as Google and Salesforce.com. We spoke to the company’s founder and CEO, Charlie Cowan, to help demystify Cloud computing.

Tell us a little about your role in Keboko
Over the next five to ten years I believe the majority of businesses will consume the majority of their technology as a service. It is my vision that Keboko will be the leading UK Cloud Service Provider driving this transition, just as Internet Service Providers enabled businesses to access the Internet in the 1990s. My role at Keboko is to crystalise that vision, for our clients, for our partners and, most importantly, for our employees. I then turn that vision into a strategy that our team can work towards over the coming months and years.

What does Keboko actually do?
Keboko turns the technology hype of the Cloud into real business solutions. Mr. Recruitment Consultant is not interested in software as a service (SaaS). Mr Accountant is not interested in Multi-Tenant architecture. Real businesses are interested in improving their revenues, ensuring higher productivity, getting their clients to pay quicker, and in reducing their costs. Keboko understands what our client’s specific needs are, and then dips into our Cloud toolbox of Google Apps and Salesforce.com and develops a solution that aligns perfectly with their business. The value of us as a Cloud Service Provider is that our relationship doesn’t end on Go-Live day. That’s when it starts. Keboko is then there to support end users and administrators through the entire Cloud journey.

There’s been a lot of hype around Cloud Computing. What type of businesses should be taking the opportunity seriously?
The price of entry to work is that you have to want things to be better. Whatever that might mean―more revenue, new offices, lower costs, more flexibility, more productivity. If you are happy with the numbers your business is doing, then the Cloud is a nice to have, but not a sensible business decision. But any business looking to grow faster should start looking at the Cloud at the same time as they consider going out to buy more software, hardware, cables and security and weigh up the benefits of having someone else being responsible for it.

Are the benefits of the cloud open to smaller businesses?
The Cloud was made for small businesses. Small businesses have not had the budget or resources to deploy complex traditional business software―it would have been complete overkill. So businesses make do with white boards, spreadsheets or “The Diary”. The Cloud democratises technology and enables businesses from one user upwards to access the same technology as the largest corporates.

Keboko helps companies move their business applications into the Cloud. What apps are best suited for the cloud environment?
Most applications could eventually be moved to the Cloud, but we advise clients to start with those that are not differentiating you from your competition―e-mail, productivity software, CRM, support desk, expenses, holidays, accounts. You can then divert your limited IT resource onto the custom applications that are core to your business and remain in your network―your e-commerce site, your custom billing system, your design package.

What kind of savings can businesses expect when moving their apps into the Cloud?
There are a number of statistics that different Cloud vendors use. I always look at a Gartner statistic from 2006 that 80 per cent of IT budgets were wasted keeping the lights on. So even if you thought moving to the Cloud would remove half of this waste you are looking at a 40 per cent saving on your annual IT budget.

Worries about the security of the Cloud seem to abound, how do you respond to those questions?
It’s a natural human emotion to confuse control with security. Everyone knows of the mythical man who keeps his money under the mattress, but even in the current climate we know our money is more secure in a bank. It’s the same with data. Your information is more at risk in your office, on your laptop, on your USB key, on your disk than it will ever be in a leading Cloud solution. That said, all Clouds were not created equal and businesses need to ensure they do all the correct due diligence to understand where there data is, and what protection it has. Beware of being drawn to the cheapest Cloud vendors.

Can you see a future when there’s no more need for hardware storage and all software is virtualised?
In our view there will always be a requirement for specialised applications that need to run locally, or on hardware you own in a datacentre. The current trend for Apps on smartphones shows that we’re not done with local software yet! But the general trend will definitely be towards Cloud based services, and as broadband speeds increase, and developments in web technologies like HTML5 continue, there will be a time when you can really ask―why on earth would we want to run this ourselves?

What are your top three pieces of advice for companies looking to move their business applications into the cloud?
First, forget about technology. The worst thing you can do is start with the solution. Map out your business strategy, your business processes, understand the bottlenecks and opportunities and then you can take your real world needs and lay the Cloud over your business.

Second, take baby steps. The leading Cloud vendors give your business amazing potential, but walk before you run. Start by replicating your existing processes and pick off a few quick wins with the new solution. Then in the coming weeks you can start to evolve the solution further. Your employees prefer this iterative process to a big bang―after all, when was the last time you struggled with an update to LinkedIn, or your online banking?

The Cloud vendors are constantly providing new updates, and your business processes aren’t static either. If you look at your Cloud deployment as a project and bring in consultants to deliver it, then you are deploying Cloud using an on-premise model. View your Cloud relationship as a never ending journey, and ensure you have the resources available every step of the way.

Where did the name Keboko come from?
If you ask 100 people what Cloud means you will get 100 different answers. Business people will assume Cloud is a technology topic and not engage. Technology people will have their view of what Cloud is and it probably isn’t the same as ours. We were therefore keen to have no reference to Cloud in our name. My wife is South African, and I loved the sound of the word Springbok, so we looked up the Swahili names for other animals and came across Kiboko―meaning Hippo. A tweak of the spelling and we have Keboko. We’re very proud of the name and the brand.

What are the future goals of the company?
Quite simply, we want to be the No.1 Cloud Service Provider in the UK. Over the coming years when companies decide they want to move to Google Apps or Salesforce.com, we want Keboko to be the natural choice to help them get there and then support their end users into the future. Because we are Cloud based, we very much see ourselves expanding into Europe and the US as the business develops.

Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.