I was recently reading Phil Wainewright’s piece on “Software as a concrete block” and was taken with the idea. Phil was talking about Workday’s (Dave D.’s new SaaS Peoplesoft killer) analogy that enterprise software has gotten to be like a concrete block. Tons of bandaids, add-ons, customizations, and other lash-ups have combined to make a boat anchor that is hard to live with.
It tickled some perverse thoughts I’ve been having about problems with conventional SaaS software. Don’t get me wrong–I am a convert! I simply believe SaaS is missing some critical elements before it can reach its full potential. The problem I have with the concrete block analogy will sound silly:
You can’t make a concrete block in SaaS!
Wait! Who needs concrete blocks? Let’s look at the glass half full side. The block represents the fact that the world has spent a lot of time developing ways to customize Enterprise software. This customization, much decried by many in the early days of SaaS, is not just something foisted on customers by software companies eager to sell more unneeded features. It reflects the fact that sometimes businesses need to change how their software works to give them a distinctive advantage, or to avoid losing that advantage.
A complex ecosystem has evolved around this need for Enterprise Software. There are numerous add-in tools and components. Wainewright’s article mentions a few including BI tools and Security. The SaaS world is relatively new, and the ecosystem doesn’t really exist to allow these things. Part of SaaS has been getting that SaaS application isolated in its own data center and consistent across every occupant of its multi-tenant complex. Capabilities like SOA and Web Services are talked about, but these capabilities are very much in their infancy and there is little expertise available to help organizations exploit what capability is there.
The Appirio folks talk about “The Enterprise Flaw” on their blog, which is basically insisting that every piece of software be part of a suite from one vendor. This is in response to a NetSuite note chastizing them for the difficulties of lashing together disparate solutions. The fact is, customers need to be able to lash together disparate solutions, SaaS or otherwise, and right now, this is often harder to do, or more limited, with SaaS.
As SaaS evolves, the important thing will be to avoid re-inventing the wheel with the same old problems. We need to solve the needs without reintroducing the disadvantages. I’ve been chatting with Dave Thompson of Genius, who recently commented in his blog that he’d seen too many cases where companies were just wrapping conventional Client/Server products in SaaS and calling it a day. Those companies are missing the opportunity to innovate further.
Following this thread to its logical conclusion is what SmoothSpan is all about.