I invest time each February as a judge for the Cloud Industry Forum UK Cloud Awards (I chair the Forum, and have no financial interest in any of the shortlisted entries). 'Invest' because it is unpaid work, but a valuable opportunity to gain insights into the innovative ways that the cloud is now being exploited.

We increasingly now work in a universe of software-defined, meta-data rich systems and processes. This is enabling not only systems automation on an impressive scale, but fresh approaches to exploiting this universe in novel and business relevant ways.

Thus amongst the entries in the Cloud Management category were a number that offer the means to manage hybrid cloud environments from a single control panel – for example Virtustream's xStreamTM. But the entry that caught my attention was AVG Managed Workplace 9.0, a remote management & monitoring tool which manages a hybrid ops environment from the point of view of the services that the environment is being exploited to deliver. This is a positive example of service design thinking in practice – managing from the service users' point of view rather than the point of view of the technology operations.

Another example of clear commercial thinking is Centrix Software's 365iQ service for helping the CIO of the typical sprawling enterprise (with its legacy of different desktop, laptop and mobile office implementations accumulated over the years) scope the move on to new cloud-based office services. Focused on identifying current use of software assets, it 'analyses applications, device and content (/licence) useage across the entire organisation, providing insights based on real user behavior and providing the insights required to move office productivity solutions into the Cloud.'

And talking about legacy – when enterprises shape their transformational journey into the cloud, the 'elephant in the room' is often the complex of legacy systems clogging up long established mainframe operations. Fedr8 (whose Argentum Analytics were category winners in last year's EuroCloud's pan-European Cloud Awards) are a good example of ventures that are pioneering approaches to what I call the 'liquification' of tightly coupled legacy systems to allow them to be transformed into cloud-compatible loosely coupled structures. Its cloud-based tools 'significantly reduce the cost of application source code analysis and identifies areas of source code that need to be re-factored in order for an applicagion to migrate into cloud working with any code in any language.'

I have written regularly in these blogs about the importance of platforms - and this year's Awards have attracted interesting examples. The telecom company EE offers, for its small to medium business (SMB) customers, a platform ('EE Business Apps') populated with a diversity of SMB-focused business Saas offers – ERP, CRM, Office etc. A smart marketing strategy! NetSuite, the cloud-native ERP vendor focused on the larger enterprise, offers a platform ('NetSuite 360 Cloud Developer Platform') populated with the main elements of the Netsuite 'family' and designed to allow developers to 'build, mix and match' their own add-ons relevant to their specialist micro-vertical: and deliver the results off a secure multitentated platform. Salesforce with FinancialForce offers very much the same capability.

These platforms impose the restraints, and the benefits, of proprietary standards. I am an active member of The Evangelistas, a group of forward thinking tech strategists. We meet 'in the virtual' once a month to tackle the key tech issues of the day. BlueJeans provides a real-time service that knits us all together on audio and video, whatever system and standards (Skype, Citrix, and Sync, for example) we are each individually using. In this year's Awards appeared the new generation BlueJeans PrimeTime that enables a large globally-dispersed technology diverse audience to behave as if assembled in a single (virtual) conference hall with a speaker or a panel on the dais to interact with.

Finally Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust. Exploiting cloud-based services has allowed the re-design of the delivery of their 'Statutory and Mandatory Training' requirements on the basis of actual on-line measurement of staff skills in a given competence, rather than simply tracking their attendance at training courses. A significant cultural & behavioural shift, with the hospital staff now directly addressing their own continuing professional development, while sharply improving the cost efficiency of a vital contributor to the Trust's medical effectiveness.

Last month I argued for a culture of paranoid optimism in the board of the contemporary enterprise as it grapples with the cloud. I hope these few sketches illustrate that there is much to be paranoid about, much to be optimistic about.