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Last weekend, on the way home from visiting the Chicago Auto Show with my son, we encountered a disturbance in the space-time continuum. Driving down a busy suburban street, we saw a sign for what claims to be the largest video game arcade in the United States. My son didn’t know it, but he was about to enter a foreign land. Without a passport.

Like others his age, my son is a digital native. He cannot remember a time when all the world’s information — and all of his friends/relatives/classwork/movies/music/whatever — could not be summoned by reaching in his pocket for a wafer of aluminum and glass. We walked through a set of double doors and were hit with a cacophony of pinball chimes and beeps and bumper slaps. Wrong entrance. But faster than my son could say “Okay Boomer,” the attendant directed us to the building next door, away from the analog world of my aunts and uncles and into the cathode-ray-illuminated one where my generation cut its teeth; Digital World 1.0.

Border Control

If it’s true that my son’s generation is full of digital natives, then Gen-Xers like me represent the first wave of “digital immigrants.” This is by no means a bad thing. My cohort has seen companies bridge the gap between traditional paper-based business processes and new computerized ones, and we feel comfortable in both of these worlds. We watched, and helped, organizations move from centralized (mainframe-based) computing to PC programs, then client-server architectures, to mobile platforms, and even back to centralized (VDI thin client) computing. We have not yet seen it all, but we know a lot about how IT systems work and how they evolve over time.

For example, consider Office 365. I first encountered this product while setting up a new PC at home and was initially skeptical and confused. Would I need to install a copy of the Office 365 software instead of the Office programs I had already licensed? Would I need to log on to a special Office 365 website before I could edit a document? What happens if I am online and lose my Internet connection while in the middle of updating a spreadsheet? And would my existing Office documents be compatible?

Any time, any device, any office 365 days a year.

For digital natives like my son, questions like those above completely miss the point. Software is not considered a product to him, but rather a service. As long as it works, it doesn’t matter where it is installed or where the actual processing takes place. If you think of Office 365 like a smartphone app, you expect it to “just work” with little up-front interaction on your part. Furthermore, you expect to be able to try it out before committing to buy. Once the ongoing cost of using the app outweighs the value you think it’s providing, you just unsubscribe and the service stops working. A simple, low-risk proposition.

Being a digital immigrant, my skeptical Gen-X mind sees both the pros and cons of this brave new world of Cloud computing. As an advanced Word and PowerPoint user, I initially found the Office 365 equivalents to be limiting. Macros and shortcuts I’ve relied on over the years don’t always work in the world of the Cloud. On the other hand, I love the idea of starting a document on my work PC, editing it from my living room couch on a wireless tablet, and printing it that night from my home laptop. Information ceases to be a container full of knowledge I need to carry from place to place. Instead, it moves quickly and easily through a pipeline that I can tap wherever I happen to be.

Today, it’s hard to imagine not being able to check my bank balance at midnight on a Sunday using my smartphone… while on board a speeding bullet train. But I can also remember being thrilled in the 90s when my bank sent me software (on diskettes!) that let me interact with their system from my laptop using a dial-up modem. And in the 80s when they gave me a plastic card that let me check my transactions any time of day from an automated teller machine. All of these options beat waiting until 9:00am Monday morning to hand my passbook to a tired bank employee at a teller window.

Do I still use the ATM, my laptop, and occasionally visit the teller at my bank? Sure, sometimes. Have I completely ditched my standard word processing and spreadsheet software and moved wholeheartedly to Office 365? No, and I probably won’t in the near future. But I have warmed up to the idea of Cloud applications and appreciate their simplicity, flexibility, and ever-growing capabilities. They solve problems that until recently we did not know existed.

With all my opining about Cloud technology, you may be asking yourself: “If cloud solutions are so great, why doesn’t LRS offer its Enterprise Output Management capabilities as a service instead of in product form?”

To which I say: watch this space.

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