Are SaaS Updates Automatically a Good Thing?

Ann All

Because I am a bookworm, my mother-in-law recently asked me if I want a Kindle for Christmas. Because I am also somewhat of a Luddite, I'm not sure I'm ready for one yet. (Apparently, I am actually a neo-Luddite. Kind of embarrassing to admit, considering I write about technology. Perhaps that's why I focus on the interplay of people and processes with technology rather than straight technology.)


Anyway, when I first saw this Wall Street Journal piece on Amazon's automated updates of the Kindle, I read it as a potential owner of the device. But then it occurred to me there were enterprise implications. In my discussions with companies that employ software-as-a-service, they present automatic updates as a big advantage, since they no longer have to devote internal resources to upgrading software. Doug Harr, CIO of Ingres, which uses SaaS for most of its enterprise applications including for CRM, told me:

Every dollar that Salesforce puts into R&D shows up at my doorstep without me doing anything to gain access to it.

Omitting the need for internal software upgrades also helped two retailers using SaaS to save money, which I mentioned in a post earlier this year. So automatic updates are the way to go, right?


The WSJ article cites the opinion of visiting Stanford University law professor Jonathan Zittrain, author of "The Future of the Internet - and How to Stop It," who suggests that an inability to opt out of updates "can make everything around you contingent." (Hey, he sounds like a fellow neo-Luddite!) Problems could also arise if device makers -- or software vendors -- decide not to support a feature any more and simply eliminate it.


With on-premise software, companies could cling to favored versions of software for a long time. On-premise vendors typically support legacy applications for quite a long time (though they tend to jack up fees for doing so), and it's usually possible to find industrious third parties that will continue to offer support even after it's been finally discontinued by a vendor. But is that possible with SaaS?


When I wrote about Google Apps earlier this year, Rishi Chandra, a Google Apps product manager, stressed his company's "constant stream of innovation," which results in frequent incremental updates to Apps. Guy Creese, a Burton Group analyst, didn't necessarily see this as an advantage, though, given that many companies like to know which new features are in the pipeline so they can tweak their processes to take advantage of them. Maybe, said Chandra, but "when the tradeoff is being stuck with old technology, I think many companies will want to move to a more flexible platform."


What do you think? Are frequent SaaS updates an advantage, a disadvantage, or simply a new way of doing things to which companies will need to adjust?

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 1, 2009 1:38 AM steven wetherell steven wetherell  says:

Isn't it great that SAAS is so convenient? Just think that the upgrades actually help companies to save time and $$$. Also update billing. Update apps. Update security(maybe patches and fixlets?). It would be nice if all the updates and upgrades for Iphone would transition faster and smoothly.

Speaking of Kindle, just blogging about the fact that it saves on all the space you need for storage of books. And isn't it nice to be able to read multiple volumes on Kindle when traveling on vacation or long business trips.

Dec 1, 2009 4:09 AM Ivan Erdos Ivan Erdos  says:

Frequent updates to a corporate application is a good thing. Free updates are even better. However, updates coming like a surprise (even as a pleasant one) are not so good things. The widely accepted change management best practices are valid for EVERY IT system, independent from the form they are delivered to the user. If we look at the SaaS updates as changes to the corporate IT environment, the communication and advance notice is the minimum what we have to require. And what about SOX change management requirements? If an enterprise is using SaaS for its vital business applications has to follow strict documentation rules in change management.

Summarizing, I think SaaS has an important role in enterprise IT applications already and this role will be stronger and stronger. But only in that case if SaaS companies will allow the enterprise customers to follow compliance requirements and industry best practices the same way as they are doing it with their traditionally implemented systems. And it clearly includes:

- the changes are carefully planned and meet with the corporate IT strategy

- well documented and communicated in advance to allow the preparation of connecting services and for the end users

- the change records are available for compliance audit purposes

And joining to Steven I want to praise electronic reading, as well.

I know, you like the touch and feel of the paper-book, you will miss it. But you will get incredible flexibility. I'm reading ebooks using different devices for almost a decade now (at this time I'm using an Ipod Touch and the Stanza application). I can tell you, there is an incredible thing to carry on a smaller library (OK, at least a bigger bookshelf) in your pocket and freach it in a second anywhere (on the road, travelling, waiting at the dentist, etc.). Freedom, real freedom.

Dec 3, 2009 4:24 AM Vala Shahabi Vala Shahabi  says:

As a admin for my company, I receive notifications for updates and I usually just ignore them until I am faced with a have to decision. Most of the time I read what the update is supposed to do and it doesn't affect us so I just accept it.  But you raise a very good point here regarding new features. Sometimes new features are not better. For example, in Windows 7 I tried so hard to learn the new coupling in the task bar but at the end I was spending too much time and clicks hunting for my windows so I reverted to the old XP style.

With SaaS if we're forced these changes and we don't like them, there better be true multi-tenancy and allows organizations to revert.


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