Software-as-a-service is often portrayed as a kind of unstoppable force. Gartner, for instance, forecasts annual growth of 22 percent over the next four years for SaaS. While there are concerns about integration, and security as well, a growing number of companies appear willing to give SaaS a try.
Yet many, if not most, deploy SaaS on a departmental basis rather than throughout their organizations. In fact, back in late 2006, a Gartner analyst predicted that three-quarters of larger and more complex SaaS deployments would fail. (CRM was the example given, though it's fair to assume that the complexity issue could dog other SaaS applications as well.)
That's why I found this On Demand Blogging entry, which describes a company's efforts to become an all-SaaS enterprise, so fascinating.
Evaluating the needed apps was the first challenge for the company, NexGen. This was relatively simple for NexGen, because it is a SaaS provider and thus familiar with the industry. But for most companies, "it is still too much of an effort to find and test all the applications," writes blogger Stephen Pech. It is getting easier, he notes, with resources like IBM's SaaSpace and consultant Jeff Kaplan's SaaS Showplace.
Pech also debunks some of the more common concerns about SaaS. Rather than suffering from downtime, Pech says NexGen employees enjoy enhanced Internet access. Because SaaS apps can be accessed from any Web browser, employees "don't require a VPN nor suffer from the slower access you normally experience with one."
Support is a non-issue, he writes, largely because of SaaS' relative simplicity and straightforward user interfaces. To make SaaS even more user-friendly, NexGen brings together all of its apps in its intranet.
In addition, most SaaS vendors provide plenty of self-service support options such as online manuals, training videos and comprehensive lists of FAQs. One caveat: Working with multiple SaaS vendors adds complexity. Writes Pech:
... multiple vendors mean multiple support teams rather than one internal IT team, absence of advice in the context of our company, and a slower pace to action. This suggests that there is space in the SaaS ecosystem for outsourcers, MSPs and aggregators to pull together multiple offerings and provide company contextual support and advice.
NexGen wasn't able to find a SaaS solution for everything. Accounting was a particular challenge for the company, because it's based in Singapore and subject to specific accounting rules that Pech says are not yet addressed in SaaS solutions. NexGen also maintains certain productivity software, so employees can access e-mail, calendaring and other necessary functions when they are not online.
Despite these gaps, however, NexGen's experience has been "almost unanimously good." Writes Pech:
Of most importance to our business is that we have more functions available more often, and kept to a higher standard of availability than if we had in-sourced our infrastructure. Our COO is effectively our entire IT department, but we still have hundreds of on-call systems experts to help us. And most importantly of all, process implementation and change is more business driven, not technology driven.