I want to share an anecdote today that is a ringing endorsement for SaaS, and that made me think that Geoffrey Moore’s Chasm can hang you up whichever direction you’re trying to cross.
This morning, I wanted to share my slide presentation on SmoothSpan with a friend who is remote. Without thinking about it too much, I simply emailed him the presentation and arranged a time to get on a conference call with him. The fun began shortly after the call started when he announced that Windows couldn’t find an application to open the files with: Doh! My friend has been out of Tech for awhile, and spends most of his time messing with digital photography. He hadn’t bothered to buy a copy of Office 2007, and the file formats are incompatible. “No problem”, says I, and I guided him through the process of downloading Microsoft’s file format converter, which lets the old versions read the new files. Several megabytes of small talk later, he was ready to try, but there was still an issue. The majority of my friend’s time on a computer is spent in PhotoShop, and so he has a Macintosh. The Windows utility didn’t work on the Mac!
Now we were really getting frustrated, we’d wasted the first 10 minutes of the call, and I was tired of it. My first thought was to get him a PDF, but darn, I hadn’t installed the PDF converter yet. So, I resaved the files in the old Office format and resent them to my friend. Two minutes later we launched into the slideshow. But wait, there’s more, and it’s much worse than a set of steak knives. My friend immediately starts critiquing all sorts of visual problems with the slide that were completely invisible to me on my machine. It seems that Microsoft has a few problems saving to the old formats. Drat!
Ironically, one of the earliest slides in the presentation mentions SaaS, and so my friend wanted to know why people like SaaS. I was running 20 minutes late, was very frustrated by the obstacles we’d encountered, but suddenly, the light went on. We had just lived through one of the best examples of why even my friend (who isn’t a Luddite at all, but just doesn’t have a reason to keep up with Office apps) could have benefited had I been using a SaaS service like WebEx to deliver the slides rather than exchanging files and asking him to run an application on his desktop.
SaaS would have been up-to-date with the latest versions without my friend even having to know about it, there would have been a lot fewer steps on his end even if everything had worked out well from the beginning, and both of us could’ve focused on the meat of the discussion instead of fooling around trying to make software work. We were able to laugh about it, but the experience really drove the SaaS point home to my pal, who had basically gotten stuck on the far side of Geoffrey Moore’s Chasm.
Moore talks about companies having to cross the vast chasm from early adopters (the hipsters who like everything new because its new) to the mainstream to achieve mega success. Sometimes the mainstream gets stuck a little too far to the right and misses out on some really good stuff like SaaS and Web 2.0. Stepping back across that chasm can really help. After this experience, I almost think SaaS offers even more value the less forward looking your organization may be. After all, you’ll be the ones staggering under the load of layers of software that hasn’t been updated in an age. It’s shades of disadvantaged countries who’ve found it easier to make cell phone networks work than to install all the copper needed for a full land-line based telco infrastructure. Maybe that’s the way to abandon antiquated IT infrastructure and jump a couple of generations ahead by letting the SaaS guys keep you up to date.
Read/Write Web had an interesting post recently on Rethinking the Chasm. The thesis is that change is coming so rapidly that its hard to attract and hold the attention of enough early adopters to establish your idea before they’ve moved on to the latest Shiny New Thing. Perhaps there are a few Luddites stuck on the far side who have enough pain that they’d make an interesting target market. This was certainly our experience selling Enterprise Software at Callidus. The best customers were at both ends of the Chasm Spectrum. Early Adopters wanted it because it was new. The Luddites wanted it because their infrastructure was so old and broken it was causing tremendous pain to the Business.