Cloud & Startups - The Data Debate

Ramaswamy Narayanan, Director- Global IT, Medtronic

Imagine a day when the world’s cloud infrastructure comes to a standstill; just for 24 hours. Most of the things that is now taken for granted in the digital world would potentially come to a grinding halt. The Uber conveniences of being able to haul a cab, order food, transact with the bank and shop online (just to name a few) would be severely impacted. If we were to pause and look, we would find ourselves surrounded by things that impact our daily lives and conveniences being driven through technology and provisioned by the cloud.

Cloud technology is no longer a fancy new thing or something that can only be afforded by a select few. It is now ubiquitous to the extent that it is assumed that every major technology infrastructure is basically a cloud. This explosion and general availability of could technology has created a completely new paradigm in solutions and services being made available to consumers.

When technology reaches such epic proportions with an ability to touch nearly every human that is practically connected to the digital world, it does open the debate – a debate around security, accessibility and ownership of these vast tracts of information real estate. While we have made significant progress on all of these fronts from when cloud technologies made their first appearance, it still has a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up.

Startups are a great example of what cloud technologies have been able to enable and spawn. There are various numbers to the tune of around 4,000 odd startups that are in various stages of their life-cycle engaged in providing everything from a pin to an elephant as a product OR a service. While providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google etc., have made technology easy and accessible, there is still an open question about issues related to security and ownership of the information real estate. Much of the debate on these topics have centered around medium to large cloud platform and solution companies while there is very little to no focus on the small and very small companies that are mushrooming in this space.

As an example let us say, there is a startup that is focused on providing services to customers that requires personal information to be provided. In all probabilities, there is an online app (web/mobile) that is developed and allowed to be installed on user devices, online terms & conditions being signed by the users to the effect that usage of their personal information is allowed for the purpose of availing services etc., is completed; with that information is collected, stored and used by the startup. 12-18 months down the line due to various reasons, the startup is shutdown – what happens to the information collected so far? Who owns it? Is it now freely floating information in the cloud infrastructure?

While it is an extremely healthy sign to see a surge in people and companies wanting to make the most of the digital economy through enabling technologies such as the cloud, it is time we took cognizance of the issues related to information security, privacy and ownership in the context of the growing number of digital entrepreneurs.