Manas Kumar, Thinking out Loud

my thoughts & visions for technology

Software as a Service – Change is imminent

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Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is receiving a lot of attention in analysts’ briefings and technology trade press articles. In the past year, SaaS has emerged from its pioneering group of start-ups and medium-sized vendors to be embraced, albeit awkwardly, by software giants including Oracle and SAP.

Much of the attention SaaS has garnered in recent months has focused on the new business model that on-demand software enables. However, some veteran technologists who’ve adopted SaaS for their own livelihood, and analysts as well, say that the phenomenon might well be the catalyst for a far wider-ranging discussion on software development for the next generation.

The highly interactive Web 2.0 model and iterative development have dovetailed to force even the most traditional programmers to at least consider the end of lengthy development cycles.

Software as a Service develpment companies are now perfectly positioned to provide all business software applications delivered via the clooud – no software to download, no risk of piracy, and no risk of hard drive failures.

Technology and culture driving business

One major technological factor in advancing the new development models might be the rise of service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Web services standards. The ASP model, championed in the late 1990s and early years of this decade, never took off because its one-to-one architecture was inherently difficult to scale. SaaS technology, however, takes advantage of a one-to-many SOA-enabled architecture that can offer customized services to different customers, and even different branches of the same enterprise. One example is a customer relationship management application offered on a SaaS basis by LiveCRM

LiveCRM enables companies to drive sales productivity, increase visibility, and expand revenues with an affordable, easy-to-deploy service that  delivers success to companies of all sizes. The beauty of a product like LiveCRM lies in its ability to adapt to different business practices and provide a unique customised solution to each without rebuilding the interface each time – This is where SaaS becomes so powerful.

Deploying a SaaS application means a major culture change within the organisation. The change comes not just in how things are seen and reported on through aq software product, but also how the product itself is used.

Many large organisations (predominantly the older ones) have spent a significant amount on training personnel and getting them used to the current systems and software products used. In my experience, many of these personnel are not as skilled as some of the younger counterparts which presents a very steep learning curve for businesses.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. SaaS can be deployed in bite sizes; module by module and as people get more used to it, a full scale deployment can be considered.

Also, a carefully managed implementation including change management, workshops and solution recipes are also a great way to minimise this learning curve.

So a change in technology, in this case, also demands a change in culture.

But a change in culture is already happening

The technological advancements underpinning the new methodologies are being complemented by a new “ground up” ethos that will force academic program leaders and enterprise strategists to retool their own thinking. In fact, the shift is a generational shift. Just as the young technologists of the late 1980s created both ad hoc and formal transitions of enterprise data from mainframes to PCs and client-server architectures, the next-gen architectures of on-demand software are being pioneered by those who have grown up working with instantly available Web-based applications.

From an executive perspective, SaaS is less about how software is going on-demand, and more about how the generation of users who have grown up with the Web as a technology are coming into the workforce. And this crowd expects the tools that allow things they’re used to—collaboration, immediate ubiquitous access, and so on—SaaS will make sure they get what they want.

Web 2.0 and socially-oriented computing, as most people think of it, is about Facebook and mashups and things like that. While that’s a big component of the overall discussion, what I try to do is take those concepts and say, ‘How do I take those ideas, which are incubated in the Internet kiddies’ domain, and put that in real business terms—enterprise quality of service, or levels of security, compliance, audit, control and so forth—that are enterprise-worthy or government-worthy, and still keep all the beauty and openness and free-flowing nature of the Web 2.0 world?

Uneasy transition

Gartner’s Norton says the transition to SaaS-based architectures is still in its early phase.

“By 2010, 15 percent of large companies will start projects replacing their ERP backbone with a SaaS offering,” he says. “A little later, Tier 1 consultancies will offer SaaS services, and 30 to 40 percent of vendors offering SaaS service by 2012.”

Norton estimates about half of the Web 2.0 projects visible to end users are still developed using noniterative development methods, but he sees that changing.

However, Norton says he has seen the promise of some flexible projects run aground just as they might become more useful in a cross-enterprise manner, because corporate executives lose their nerve and fall back on old development methods as projects get larger.

“They don’t know what they’ve got, and it’s easier to say, ‘If we put the standard controls in place, we can control this beast.’ They only have the illusion of control.”

In all but the most daring organizations, it will take time to realize that the illusion of control might best be modified in favor of a collaborative, nonhierarchical approach. Vandervoort says the next generation of developers is coming out of universities well-informed of these technologies, but are receiving little to no formal training in how to use them in enterprise settings.

“The shift that has to occur, both in academic training and in enterprise thinking, is to move away from the idea that IT builds the answer for the user,” he says. He sees Web 2.0 enabling IT to shift its thinking toward enabling users to build their own solutions. In doing that, he says users will find their own answer via the path of least resistance, or POLR.

What do you think?

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Written by manaskumar

December 30, 2008 at 5:32 am

One Response

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  1. Now this I agree with completely. In our business we have been successful in making a shift toward using more and more web based applications in comparison to the legacy based stuff that is just plain unproductive. The results speak for themselves. Salesforce.Com has been our preferred CRM and we are quite happy with it (so far). The reason I believe the transition for us was easy because most of our team members are in the 25-35 age group who are alrteady very copmfortable around technology, which makes the learning curve a lot easier to handle.

    Rob Harding

    January 6, 2009 at 4:16 am


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