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 Salesforce.com 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?