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Google's John Solomon redefines the cloud worker for CIOs at MITCIO

Who is a cloud worker? According to Google's John Solomon, CIOs are shortchanging their companies by not enabling virtually every worker today to use the cloud to do their jobs.

Cloud computing has created a way to work that frees employees from the confines of a desktop in a cubicle. The freedom is not only a boon for this breed of cloud workers, but also more profitable for the company.

However, many companies are failing this type of worker, because company leaders don't yet see the range of employees whose work should be enabled by the cloud. And, as a result, these companies are missing out on growth opportunities and full digital transformation.

That's the view of John Solomon, vice president of ChromeOS at Google, who was the sole speaker at the "Welcome to the Age of the Cloud Worker" session at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium on May 22.

Solomon laid out his assessment, noting that people already utilize cloud computing to make their personal lives better and seek that same experience at work.

"In our personal lives, we have, without even really necessarily articulating it, become completely comfortable with the cloud as an enabler for how we do things. Whether it's consulting a map or whether it's consuming media, we have transformed our personal digital environment and experience to be very dependent on cloud architecture [and] real-time data. That's actually kind of the expectation," he said.

Cloud has reshaped work, too, with data showing that employees already work outside of the office. Solomon cited a Google-sponsored study conducted by Forrester Research, "Rethink Technology In The Age Of The Cloud Worker," which found 94% of workforce respondents reported using their laptop, smartphone, tablet or wearable device for work while commuting, traveling or at home.

From email to job-focused apps

John SolomonJohn Solomon

But the data also revealed that only 43% of employees feel satisfied with the tools their organizations provide to do their work untethered from the cubicle. What cloud workers want and need most is "technology to provide uninterrupted, device-independent" access to the applications they need to get their jobs done, Solomon said.

"More than three-quarters have this expectation that it should just work, it should work uninterrupted, and if [their] device should change, there shouldn't be a loss of productivity," he said.

Yet, there's a different reality for most cloud workers.

"When we surveyed IT leaders, they also feel like they're playing catch-up, and it's difficult to continue to meet expectations," Solomon said.

He pointed out that companies see the biggest productivity gains when they move from the tier of cloud-enabled apps (i.e., email, calendar and contacts) to cloud-enabled access to job-focused applications.

Turning frontline workers into cloud workers

The big productivity gains also come when company leaders broaden the types of workers they enable with cloud, Solomon said.

He said Google believes that nearly every employee should be considered a "cloud worker," and not just an information worker.

In fact, he said companies are missing out on significant opportunities for revenue growth by essentially ignoring what he called "front-line workers" -- employees like store clerks and waiters who are dealing with revenue and customers, and employees who handle customer-related tasks from their web browser, such as call center workers.

A Google analysis estimated that there are nearly 30 million U.S. workers who fall into this category; Solomon noted that a similar analysis by Microsoft puts the figure at 26 million.

"They're not getting the technology they need," Solomon said.

The restaurant industry is case in point. "The person in a restaurant who is most connected to revenue per check is the server, and the server is the lowest paid and least technology-enabled person in the restaurant. There's an analogy there to think about in terms of all businesses and industries."

Driving revenue, reducing turnover

Solomon cited a Harvard Business Review study that found that a good experience with a front-line worker drives a multifold rate of purchase and repeat purchase. "It's a big number and a big impact," he said.

"They're under-invested in, from a technology perspective," he stressed. "They've typically been last in line when it comes to technology. [But] we would argue that cloud lets you turn that into a competitive advantage. Give [front-line workers] access to real-time data, give them access to best-in-class technology, and do that in a way that can cause them to be much more effective in their roles."

Companies that do that could see not only increased revenue, but also lower turnover among their front-line workers. He cited studies showing that turnover costs companies an average of 13% to 17% of a worker's annual salary.

As such, Solomon advised companies to bring more of their workforce to the cloud and understand the returns such enablement would bring, saying, "It's a big number and a big impact."

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