By now, we’ve all heard about the cloud and the numerous benefits of cloud computing, but how are companies really using the cloud? Working with SAP, Oxford Economics surveyed 200 senior business and IT executives to find out.

Respondents to the survey were highly diversified, representing various industry segments including banking, capital markets, consumer products, retail and telecommunications, as well as multiple countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, UK and US.

What they found is that companies are investing heavily in the cloud, with 95% using cloud technology. Companies are moving more and more business functions into the cloud, and making the cloud into a truly strategic option. As more and more functions (HR, finance, etc.) adopt cloud technologies, the barriers between executives disappear—clouds of information merge.

12% of HR functions are using cloud platforms now and it is expected to be 44% in 3 years

27% of marketing functions are using cloud platforms now and it is expected to be 62% in 3 years

The first wave of cloud computing services was built on basics, like simple hosted applications and software-as a-service. These early developments allowed IT to be more agile and flexible, but information and process silos made it difficult for companies to harness the full power of cloud technologies.

Today, a new generation of sophisticated cloud platforms is driving a remarkable transformation within IT and across the enterprise.

54% have developed new products/services (people buying something), 41% have developed new lines of business (new place for people to buy) and 37% have entered new markets

Using these platforms, companies can automate systems, processes, and interactions like never before. They can roll-out new services that connect all of their data and their partners’ data seamlessly and efficiently.

One key area of development involves cloud-supported mobile services to improve customer experience, worker capabilities, and bottom-line results. Mobile devices are flooding businesses with data and fueling new opportunities, making a customer-facing mobile strategy a priority.

All this new complexity makes the task of securing the cloud more complex—and companies overwhelmingly view it as a top concern and are taking steps to protect their data.

65% of respondents cite security as a major challenge to the use of cloud business networks and 95% have taken steps to deal with security risks

Cloud computing has transformed the business world by making IT more flexible and agile, allowing companies to remap workflows, reduce administrative overhead, and eliminate inefficiencies. In fact, more than four out of five respondents indicated that these technologies play a key role in managing customers, boosting internal productivity, enabling collaboration, and unleashing faster time to value for the business.

56% of companies plan to invest heavily in cloud platforms over the next three years

But these are only incremental gains compared with those promised by the merger of disparate clouds, whether operated by different groups within the same company or by external business partners. Ultimately, integrated cloud networks will make IT more flexible, agile, and cost-effective, creating the foundation of the digital enterprise and unleashing business and IT gains that would not have been imaginable only a few years ago.