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SAAS and a tropical vacation- Their surprising similarities

SAAS-Like a trip to the beach without the travel headaches

Over the past few years Software as a Service (SAAS) and cloud offerings have become more and more prevalent in our recommendations to our clients, particularly when clients are coming to us to help them look for cost savings. In both the public and private sector cost has become the single most cited reason for clients requesting our services. However for clients, particularly those coming to us from the “business” side of the house as opposed to the technology side of the house, there is something especially scary about capabilities that reside “off-site.” I think for many people there is comfort in knowing that they own the hardware, software, and even the building in which their capability resides. To my mind, this is representative of old-world thinking that simply won’t be sustainable as we move forward. The economics of multi-tenancy “where a single instance of the software runs on a server, serving multiple client organizations (tenants),[1]” is simply too powerful to be ignored for long. I’ve told clients that it’s like taking a vacation to Jamaica without having to endure the travel time. You get the same results. You end up in a nice sunny, warm place with great beaches—but you get to avoid the travel time, skip the long lines and bypass the cramped seats. SAAS and cloud offerings give you all of the benefit minus many of the headaches. You don’t have to procure and manage the hardware/software, in fact you avoid most of the “other” distractions and costs that come along with owning your software capabilities.

Of course you don’t really avoid the costs, they are simply bundled into the solution you are receiving. Ideally this is happening in a manner that enables the vendor to take advantage of large economies of scale resulting in better performance at the same or a lessor price point. Of course it isn’t all benefit. It does require some reskilling for IT professionals in order to enable your organization to get maximum value. You need to be able to “shift from delivering IT solutions to brokering business capabilities.[2]” You also need to be able to understand the security, data implications, access and other factors that will affect your corporate data. This area deserves a much richer treatment than I can give in this blog post but for those interested a great place to start is with the recent MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) paper “Embrace the Inevitable: Six Imperatives to Prepare Your Company for Cloud Computing by Mooney, Ross and Phipps. For the purposes of this post, suffice it to say that the concerns most people have center around security, access to data, and flexibility. These are all real concerns, which is why you still need great technologists available within the organization in order to help you develop solutions that meet your specific business requirements. However, I will say that sometimes these concerns are overhyped.

I will use security as my example. I believe that with many SAAS and cloud vendors capability in this area probably far exceeds what you may currently have in house simply because the impact of a breech would have such negative consequences. Salesforce CEO Benioff talks about the importance of security to his offering because companies like Dell and Cisco are putting some of their most important data, their customer data into the solution. The ripple effect of a loss of confidence in their security model would have enormous ramifications for the business. Therefore they are incredibly focused on delivering in a secure fashion. I personally find it hard to believe that given the combination of the reduction of the importance of security to the business model and the more standardized technology architecture that SAAS and cloud vendors don’t have an easier time securing their solutions. Think about it like this—the Department of Agriculture has more than 700 applications all with different architectures. How much more difficult is this to secure than a SAAS vendor with 700 clients all using the same application on a standard architecture and with an overriding business imperative to be secure or risk losing all of those clients in rapid fashion. I’m not saying the SAAS vendor will be more secure, I just think the design forces favor them. What do you think? Most of us have gotten used to the SAAS service delivery model in our personal lives and transact business and interact via social media using these services everyday. Are you ready to make the leap to take your organization there?

[2] Embrace the Inevitable: Six Imperatives to Prepare Your Company for Cloud Computing, Mooney (2012)

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