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SaaS Authors: Pat Romanski, Andy Thurai, Elizabeth White, Ed Witkovic, Simon Hill

Related Topics: Cloud Computing, SaaS Journal


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A major gap exists between what SaaS marketers promise, and what companies really see

Taking the Next Step Forward in SaaS

The benefits of efficiency and lower cost have been the primary drivers toward the cloud and SaaS deployments, but this is just the low-hanging fruit of a much greater body of potential. According to a Cisco-sponsored IDC report, a second wave of cloud adoption now targets a much more strategic set of benefits, with 54 percent of businesses surveyed expecting cloud to allow them to allocate IT budgets more strategically, and 53 percent looking to cloud solutions to increase revenues.

According to the Cisco study, cloud and SaaS adoption takes place along a spectrum, with ad hoc deployment on one end and a centrally managed cloud platform on the other. On the ad hoc side, early adopters look to SaaS to solve an immediate need. These early adopters are often "power users" or ad hoc staff outside of IT, often managing a specific line of business, such as marketing, sales, or finance, and operating independently and often keeping the apps and potentially beneficial data to themselves.

At the other end of the scale, those companies that have deployed a centrally managed cloud platform may realize up to a 200 percent improvement in strategic allocation of IT resources - but, according to the Cisco study, only about one percent of companies surveyed enjoy this level of optimization, and most organizations remain on the low end of the maturity curve. SaaS is clearly falling far short of its potential and may even be the source of unexpected consequences and a new set of problems.

Why SaaS Doesn't Live Up to the Hype
With the overwhelming majority of SaaS users still on the low end of the adoption spectrum, a major gap exists between what SaaS marketers promise, and what companies really see. Despite the potential, unexpected results of non-strategic SaaS deployment can, and often do, thwart its potential for meaningful transformation. Although a more strategic and bimodal approach would overcome most of these limitations, most still lack this focus. A few of the easily avoidable negative consequences include:

  • Isolation. With beneficial SaaS apps being deployed at the departmental level by ad hoc power users, the benefits are limited. While some disintermediation of centralized IT can go a long way toward a more agile environment, too often, SaaS apps and the data they collect tend to be isolated. As a result, that data and corporate knowledge remains unused by a large percentage of the business.
  • Lack of a bimodal approach to SaaS. The majority of SaaS ecosystems exist in two separate buckets - SaaS that is deployed by IT specialists, and SaaS deployed by ad hoc managers. Both are good, but the problem is that each "bucket" operates independently of the other and therefore a true bimodal approach is missing. The ease with which many SaaS apps can be sourced, deployed, and managed means that the role of the centralized IT specialist is changing, and often there is no need for a highly paid engineer in the back room to deploy and manage a single-function, ten-dollar-a-month SaaS app. A bimodal approach places management of SaaS at the most appropriate level.
  • Just a Bunch of SaaS (JBOS). With strategy conspicuously missing from most SaaS ecosystems, we really don't have an ecosystem at all. At the most extreme level of decentralization, what we have can be called "Just a Bunch of SaaS" (JBOS), or a SaaS model that simply deploys SaaS as a stop-gap measure wherever it is needed, with no integration between the SaaS apps, no sharing of resources or data, and no centralized strategy to manage them. The resulting lack of visibility can be a tremendous resource problem, leading to underused data and resources.

Two Strategies, Neither Works
Enterprises for the most part, use one of two strategies, both of which are inadequate. One is a highly centralized "priesthood" of IT, and the other is the haphazard JBOS approach with no centralization at all.

The centralized model occurs all too often, and is often accompanied with an IT culture of "let us manage everything." When the CIO is reluctant to relinquish control to the lines of business or to ad hoc power users, the result is an IT backlog, unacceptable waits for routine requests, and all-too-frequent instances of IT projects that do not understand the business imperative behind the request. Granted, this approach was necessary when even the smallest of IT tasks required highly specialized staff, and granting authority to departmental power users who were not IT specialists frequently caused serious problems.

The second non-centralized approach is equally frustrating. While this approach does break free from the priesthood of IT, the result is that SaaS never gets to live up to its potential.

The Solution: Bimodal IT with an Integration Platform
Those days of the highly centralized "let us manage everything" IT culture are gone. Today, many essential tasks are no longer part of the older "build and deliver" focus of IT, but instead are sourced from a third-party SaaS provider that provides not only the app, but hosting, management, and routine maintenance as well, often with a management interface that any competent non-specialist can employ.

Bimodal IT, according to Gartner, occurs when a company maintains two separate modes of IT delivery, with one focused on stability, and the other on agility. We would go a step further to suggest that bimodal IT must include an integration platform to ensure a higher level of collaboration and visibility between the IT staff delivering the more centralized mode, and the ad hoc professionals seeking more agility and speed through SaaS, as well as greater integration and sharing of data and functionality between the SaaS apps themselves. Bimodal IT with integration would solve many of the gaps that currently exist, and allow enterprises today to finally enjoy the full potential of what SaaS has to offer.

More Stories By Igor Drobiazko

Igor Drobiazko is a co-founder of and an experienced open source hacker. He is a PMC member at the Apache Software Foundation and author of 2 books on web development in Java programming language. Before co-founding Igor worked at Nokia Siemens Networks, HSBC and NTT docomo.

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