Data Liberation: Avoiding a “Comcastic” Cloud Experience

It’s a reasonable assumption that your current cloud-based provider(s) might not always fit your organizational needs. While many services will trip all over themselves to get your “stuff” into their infrastructure, it’s a safe bet that few will offer a clear path to an exit if that time should come. Leaving a cloud-service might prove to  be an absolutely Comcastic experience for you.

Ending a relationship with a magazine publisher is fairly easy. Eventually the bothersome phone calls and direct mail pleas (“come back now and will give you 30% off your annual subscription and a tote bag”) will stop. And you’ll be free.

Breaking up with a cable TV provider is a little more difficult.  The retention reps seem to be  lot more voracious than in  most consumer spaces. You can find all sorts of articles and recorded phone conversations between customers and “Big Cable) retention reps (who I should point out are, for the most part, only doing their job).

There were a series of recorded calls in particular that got a lot of exposure and that  led to the neologism “Comcastic.” to describe a particularly awful experience with customer service.

While  it is an unpleasant experience to  terminate a cable TV (Internet)  subscription, the fact is a provider has comparatively little leverage over a customer who is committed to leaving.

With a cloud-computing provider that is not the case. They have YOUR stuff: your spreadsheets, your marketing images, your CAD drawings… If your newly appointed-CFO or recently promoted IT Director wants to bring the services back inside, you might experience some friction trying to get your stuff  back.

You may have experienced something like this Facebook if you tried to get your personal stuff several years ago. When Facebook was pretty much unopposed in the social media space, one of the many knocks against it was that a user could not easily retrieve the photos, notes and videos that it put on to their FaceBook site. Thus, it was difficult to breakup with Facebook.

Google had made several attempts at a Facebook killer over the years to little avail. In 2011, they launched Google Plus (G+) which bore a curious resemblance to Facebook, it seemed the result of “If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Look Just Like Them.” Though G+ did offer some valuable  features that Facebook didn’t including the Hangouts (video conferencing) and of course strong integration with Google Apps.

Google Plus also  offered a way to leave Google Plus. Users could export everything that they had put onto Google Plus and they use it as a backup, or to take with them. Google called this feature “Data Liberation.” It was pretty well received. It was not  too long after that Facebook provided users with the same feature. The market forces had spoken.

Organizations, large and small should address “data liberation” procedures with prospective vendors before entering into a contract. Turn-around times, professional services and storage-media costs should be addressed in the RFP.

A key question to ask: “Will my organization have its own database in the hosted environment?” If the answer is “no” then you might want to investigate alternative solutions. (Thanks to  Magan Arthur for making this excellent point to me)

You should clearly articulate your expectations for how our “stuff” (content types) and your stuff’s corresponding metadata descriptors will be provided to you if you should need to remove your stuff from the vendor’s infrastructure.

If they can’t provide assurance that would provide you all your content and metadata in a format (XML, CSV, etc.) that you can use, then you should look harder at some of the other RFP respondents.

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