This month I am putting on my hat as critic – the force of informed challenge (see last month’s column) – to promote debate on an issue that is overdue serious attention.

I was privileged to help chair June’s 3rd Cloud Computing World Forum in London — a two-day event at which 97 companies had taken stands.

The best presentations were by CIOs sharing their experiences in exploiting new sourcing opportunities. Mike Wright of Man Group, for instance, shared a very honest analysis of failure, success and lessons learnt.

On the other hand the most frustrating presentations were by vendors trapped by marketing briefs. Bill Chang, executive VP of SingTel, vigorously hammered his company’s sales pitch. Tough on the audience — a few slipped quietly away.

Some of the industry developments that the marketing folk try so hard to link to the Cloud are now maturing into practical realities.

Stuart Birrell, CIO of Gatwick Airport, articulated his pragmatic approach to adopting cloud services by explaining that, with a single site and a historic legacy of Lotus 4.5, step one would be migration to an on-premise Exchange, and step two migration to Exchange in the Cloud.

But two days’ worth of presentations confirmed just how early a stage we are at in this transformational revolution, and how much practical development still awaits.

There is one certainty: the discretely sourceable services model is now taking over.

At CSC’s Leading Edge Forum I introduced the concept of Technology-Enabled Business Services (TEBS) to make the point that we now have the opportunity in sourcing our technology to work in purely business terms.

The technology is for real (it enables) but should be invisible and able to be ignored — it is a business service that we buy.

In sourcing Google Apps or Microsoft’s newly competitive Office 365 we are not making technology procurements any more that in buying a can of Dulux Paint we are making a technology procurement (brilliant though the underlying technology is): we are simply procuring a business service.

A key aspect of this transformation is that each TEBS is to be sourced discretely.

As more open technical standards are agreed, the exercise of services integration (SI) will become increasingly routine.

The enterprise escapes the complexities of the classic outsourcing deal (where financing, transformation and the ongoing supply of services are integrated into a client-confusing, vendor-exploited version of the three-card trick, further leveraged by change control) by assembling a portfolio of relevant and standalone competitive business services aligned to the delivery of its business objectives.

This very fundamental development will sharply refocus the business models of many vendors.

In a recent webinar, Ben Trowbridge of consultancy Alsbridge positioned HP’s developing cloud computing offer as an emerging challenge to the Amazon Elastic Cloud, acknowledging that to make it a success, HP would have to bypass its extensive established sales and marketing operations.

I asked him what HP would then do with this expensive resource: fire it or reassign its costs elsewhere? Ben’s answer was not a crisp one.

With the virtualisation and automation of many services that classically have been based on bums-on-seats business models, fundamental change is inevitable.

This model of constructive deconstruction needs to be applied in another corner of our industry — our consultancy practices.

Wikipedia defines a consultant as a professional who provides professional or expert advice and an advisor as a person with more and deeper knowledge in a specific area, or a specialist.

The practical reality is, however, that the consultancies that dominate our industry have evolved from delivering the role of advisor to delivering interim human resource, sometimes on a grand scale.

I am not arguing that the work of consultancies is bums-on-seats stuff ripe for automation.

Rather, as the new models of discretely sourceable business services take hold, we should segregate the genuine advisory role of the consultancy (the work of the very few very experienced specialists) from the interim resourcing role that may be subsequently required — which should be a quite separate, explicit and independent sourcing exercise.

The commercial pressures of the current consultancy model to set as many staff to work as possible undoubtedly risk distorting the quality of the strategic advice on offer.

I know, from chairing a leading outsourcing consultancy from 1999 until 2004, the degree of endless board focus on resource utilisation levels.

Let us take consultancies back to their roots as small partnerships of focused, independent, specialist and experienced advisors.

If an implementation resource is then required, the first and best objective is to set the client’s employees to work: if more interim resource is needed, then out into the marketplace you go.

Richard Sykes was vice president of IT at ICI in the 1990s and is now a consultant