A fundamental shift has already occurred in cloud adoption, according to technology author Nicholas Carr, and with that comes big new challenges and opportunities.

Speaking during a keynote Tuesday at the co-located American Institute of CPAs’ Digital CPA conference and Information Technology Alliance’s Fall 2014 Collaborative, the The Big Switch author revealed that only 3 percent of businesses currently reject the cloud outright.  

That number is a "radical change" from just a few years ago, he said. Meanwhile, the “overwhelming” reason given for not adopting is security, reported by about half of companies he surveyed.

Companies—and the crowd of CPAs and technology consultants in attendance— should not expect to capitalize on that fear, however.

“You’re probably not going to get a huge competitive differentiation by making cloud services secure,” Carr said, explaining that despite their anxiety, clients still expect data security once they do adopt.

According to Carr, other barriers to adoption include: questions of reliability, loss of control, organizational resistance, fear of the unknown, lack of knowledge, and reluctance to change.

Once consultants have pushed their clients past those obstacles and into the cloud, expectations will rise—and rapidly. Because, Carr warned attendees, every time their services “hit new levels of service and reliability, that becomes the baseline. You can only distinguish yourself by going beyond.”

The challenge shifts from building and acclimating clients to the platform to “how businesses will change with the access to unlimited computer power and storage.” In other words, how technology and cloud consultants will empower the end user.

That, of course, has yet to be fully realized. Just as the PC’s “true power in the business world didn’t emerge until the invention of the spreadsheet” the cloud has yet to meet its equivalent in one “killer app,” Carr said.

“More and more business will take place through specialized apps,” creating “enormous possibilities” for innovation in data analysis, collaboration and service.

The ability of these apps to centralize large amounts of business and customer data are likewise disrupting traditional business processes.

“The old boundaries between hardware, software, media and services being erased,” Carr stated, with the most innovative companies taking advantage.

Amazon, Google and Salesforce have successfully adapted to the cloud and other disruptive changes by constantly asking, “What business are we in?” and “What business can we be in?” Carr said, two questions every company should consider.

They should also prepare for what Carr called the next big technology wave, also the subject of his new book, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us.

Carr doesn't refer to the current automation seen in data entry and other processes, but that function on an even larger scale. The cloud will automate jobs at all levels of the economy, Carr predicted.

“Before, automation was factories and assembly lines. That's overturned.”

Now, Carr explained, pointing to Google’s self-driving car as an example, tacit and sophisticated motor skills will be automated. Creative work will be automated.

“As we automate more elements, where do new middle class jobs come from?” Carr said. “We've seen computers take over work, but not the arrival of new types of jobs. There will be a divergence in the economy between the have and have-nots.”

On the brighter side, skilled knowledge workers can distinguish themselves because while “generic knowledge can be easily replicated with computer programs, specialization is much harder.” Companies still need creativity and strategy in their advisement, Carr explained, so consultants that avoid what he called automation complacency and bias and manage to retain their skills will have a competitive advantage.

They just need to stay ahead of the automation and put those tools to work.

“In times of disruption,” Carr said, “bridge builders win.”      

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