07/19/2012 04:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Emerging Markets Ready for Cloud -- Including Paid Services

If you live in a developing economy and use a computer, then, likely as not, you also use cloud computing services at least some of the time for email, word processing, document or photo storage, or other needs -- although you might not understand those services to be "cloud computing."

BSA Cloud Infographic

Globally, 45 percent of us now report using such cloud-based services, according to survey data that BSA is releasing today, and the figure is higher in developing economies than it is in mature ones -- 50 percent to 33 percent, respectively. This appears to indicate a leapfrog effect, in which recent adopters of computers and information technology often are jumping straight to the cloud.

These data come from research that BSA conducts annually for our Global Software Piracy Study. We partnered with Ipsos Public Affairs to ask nearly 15,000 computer users in 33 countries about their understanding and use of cloud computing.

The vast majority of people who use cloud services (88 percent) say they use them for personal purposes, while 33 percent say they use cloud services for business. Free services overwhelmingly predominate for personal use. But 33 percent of those using cloud-based applications for business say they pay for half or more of them. And a particularly head-turning finding is that cloud users in emerging markets are just as likely as their counterparts in mature markets to subscribe to paid cloud services for business. Globally, one-third of cloud users (33 percent, on average) say they are using paid services for business at least half the time.

The global software and computing marketplace offers a widening array of online tools to choose from in addition to full-featured software packages you can install locally on your own PC. So, on the one hand, it might not seem surprising that users in developing markets are actively embracing online services that seamlessly integrate with the broader Internet economy. But a common assumption in industry has been that users in emerging markets might either distrust online services because of concerns about who has access to their data, or lack reliable access to cloud offerings because of poor Internet infrastructure. Our survey data paint a more nuanced picture.

Nearly all of the emerging markets we surveyed -- including rapidly growing economies throughout Asia and Latin America -- reported significantly higher-than-average use or access to cloud services, while nearly all the mature markets of North America and Europe reported lower-than-average use or access. Two outliers from the pattern are China and India, where the reported rates of usage or access are in the same band as more established economic powers Germany and Japan.

The technical definition of cloud computing is difficult for non-technical users to understand, so we started by asking in lay terms: "Do you use online services that let you create, manage, and store documents, spreadsheets, photos or other digital content so that you can access them from any computer by logging on through the Internet?" Forty-five percent of all respondents said yes -- including an average of 50 percent in developing economies such as Thailand, Malaysia, Argentina, and Peru, and an average of 33 percent in mature economies such as the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and Germany.

Our survey found that three out of five respondents globally (59 percent) had at least heard the term "cloud computing," but only about a quarter (24 percent) were "very familiar" or "quite familiar" with it. A plurality of 40 percent said they had never heard of it at all.

When we asked people who said they used cloud services about the specific types of services they use, we found that nearly eight out of 10 (78 percent) use online email services like Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail. Close to half (45 percent) use online word processing services like Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365. Four in 10 use photo storage and sharing services like Flickr or play online games (40 percent and 38 percent, respectively. And three in 10 (29 percent) use online file storage services like Dropbox.

While the rates at which cloud users report adopting each of these types of services are generally similar in developing economies and mature economies, there are notable exceptions. One is online word processing, where usage in developing economies outstrips usage in mature economies by 13 points -- 48 percent to 35 percent. Another is online-only gaming, where usage in developing economies again outstrips usage in mature economies by 13 points -- 41 percent to 28 percent.

But in addition to expanding opportunities for providers and offering greater choice for consumers, our survey also points to new challenges in the habits of cloud users. For example, among those who say they use paid cloud services for business purposes, a striking 42 percent say they share the login credentials for their accounts within their organizations. This may or may not be legal, depending on the terms of the service agreement, which adds a new dimension to piracy concerns. I will write more about this issue tomorrow.

Click here to download the topline results of BSA's global survey of cloud usage.

Download high-resolution infographic: EPS or PDF.

This post was also featured on the Business Software Alliance's blog, BSA TechPost. The Business Software Alliance is a trade group that represents software makers against copyright infringement.