It’s the age of personalization.
Our laptops, phones, and tablets suggest books we should read and movies we should watch. Grocery stores give out coupons based on our buying habits. But up until now, cloud computing has been ready-made, rather than custom-made. That’s about to change.

Cloud hasn’t simply arrived; it has kicked down the door. It’s accelerating globally to a $200 billion global market opportunity by 2020. Enterprises of all sizes everywhere are increasingly relying on cloud computing for developing, marketing and selling products and services, as well as for managing global supply chains and more.

Today, companies are moving their infrastructure and software purchases to the cloud at an unprecedented pace. The same trend is beginning to take hold in consulting and systems integration. This is leading to market disruption and the emergence of a game changing shift in how consulting and systems integration services are consumed: personalized clouds.

According to IBM’s 2014 Global Technology Outlook, within two years, more than a quarter of all applications (around 48 million) will be available in the cloud. And most new software is being built for cloud from the outset.

Today, many businesses are still experimenting and becoming familiar with cloud. Before long, companies will be expecting clouds to be customized to fulfill very specific needs. Just as consumers are increasingly expecting personalized experiences, companies are realizing that a personalized infrastructure can provide them with the competitive advantage of better delighting and serving customers.

For example, a telecommunications company might want a cloud with integrated analytics that can anticipate when a customer is likely to change to a different carrier and recommend the best action to take (such as a rate reduction, new handset, or family plan) to retain the account.

An insurance business could be looking for a cloud that specializes in countering fraud to increase profitability or to lower rates for honest customers.

A manufacturing company seeking to improve efficiency would benefit from a cloud with built-in predictive asset optimization — to warn of likely machine failures.

Over time, and fairly quickly, enterprises no longer will want to pay for — or subscribe to — features they don’t want. And, the demand for unique customer experiences will drive the requirement for deeper personalization.

The answer is to offer a platform of technologies that enterprises can quickly build on and customize to their needs. It’s the ability to incorporate this level of customization that will allow cloud to become a central part of business strategy, rather than merely another infrastructure alternative.

The rapid adoption of cloud computing is as much about business model change as it is about technology. Until recently, cloud computing was mostly focused on achieving operational efficiencies, capital cost reductions, and time-to-market gains. Personalization has the potential to drive the value of cloud to even higher levels.

TP Vision, a manufacturer of the Philips television brand, is an early adopter that has seen the benefits of a personalized cloud. Smart televisions have changed the business landscape, as they offer direct interaction with consumers. TP Vision began using an IBM cloud solution to capture and analyze data from these interactions to deliver a personalized consumer experience and overall improve management of its Smart TV service.

The company has realized reduced costs not only for themselves but also the consumer as they are able to constantly fine tune and upgrade the user experience in the cloud, which eliminates the need to continually update the actual TV set to accommodate new applications and services.

While TP Vision was a first mover, it is representative of many companies’ evolving expectations in the era of cloud. It is no longer only about speed, risk mitigation, and ease of maintenance. Now personalization is moving to the top of the agenda. Businesses around the world want integrated, customized, cloud-ready business solutions — not piece parts. Some people may want to assemble an engine, a motor, a chassis, wheels, tires, etc., but most of us would rather buy or lease a car — with carefully chosen components and features.

In this age of personalization, anyone with access to the Internet can generate a weather report by simply typing in a city and a date. But personalized clouds? Now we’re talking business.

Kelly Chambliss is chief technology officer of the global business services division of IBM.