Back in December I wrote a post wondering whether the automated software updates widely pitched as a benefit by software-as-a-service providers were always a good thing. While a Google Apps product manager promoted frequent incremental updates to Apps as a positive, Burton Group analyst Guy Creese told me he wasn't so sure since companies like to know which new features are in the pipeline so they can tweak their processes to take advantage of them.
A reader named Ivan Erdos commented on my post, noting that while companies should welcome frequent -- and especially free -- updates, they should also expect to receive some advance notice of the updates. Such communication is especially important If an enterprise uses SaaS for business applications subject to compliance requirements.
This came to mind when I read an eBizQ post in which Phil Wainewright comes out in support of SaaS updates. He notes the lengthy lag time between when on-premise software vendors start promoting new features and when they become widely available and bemoans all of the marketing hype needed to sell folks on such features. He writes:
... The business model of on-premise software vendors is built around denying functionality to users until they can no longer resist paying for an upgrade. The success of this business model depends on spending large amounts on marketing so that users become aware of what they're missing. And of course it forces vendors to stuff the upgrade full of desirable new functions so that users can justify the cost and hassle of making the upgrade.
These are great points. And maybe Google is getting folks accustomed to this model through its free services like Gmail (which Wainewright mentions). But in a company where changes in functionality can lead to new security, compliance or process requirements, I think a little more consideration is required for updates. SaaS providers should be cognizant of this and make it easy for their customers to opt in -- or out.