Will You Still Need Systems Integrators with SaaS?


The Australia-based IT Channel site, ARN, recently ran a package on SaaS and why it's succeeding now-as opposed to the sad failure of its earlier incarnation, ASPs.


While the feature article is excellent, what are really worth reading are the three articles drawn from a roundtable discussion on SaaS. ARN brought together a group of industry experts to discuss the pros and cons of SaaS, compensation for resellers in a SaaS world and how SaaS will affect systems integrators.


Microsoft, Red Hat, New Lease and Trend Micro were among those who participated in the roundtable. The group identified some under-discussed aspects of the SaaS model, including an eventual end of numbered versioning and the related waiting for bug fixes and new features. Who needs that when you're always plugged into a live platform, rather than deploying a static application?


But what really intrigued me is the group's forecast for systems integrators in the coming application - apocalypse and the apparently inevitable rise of the virtual SaaS machine.


Only one participant - Macquarie Hosting's Stuart Mills-believed SaaS would threaten traditional channels and systems integrators. Everybody else seemed to agree that system integrators would continue to thrive in the SaaS era.


Richard Robards of Intrapower, an Australian on-demand telecommunications company, said systems integrators will be critical to SaaS success because they know the customer base, the application, and how to re-engineer business processes:


"I see SIs having a huge role to play-a provider may enable access to the IP address to the data hosted in their datacentre, but SIs have a fundamental and massive role in making that available. Once it is up and running, it needs an SLA, and who's going to manage that? That is what SaaS and cloud computing is all about."


Systems integrators may matter more in situations where companies are using more than one solution. As Trend Micro's Adam Biviano explained:


"Software-as-a-service products ... can live in isolation to solve specific business problems, ala Salesforce.com, or they can be part of your ongoing business strategy and be integrated into the rest of your business the same way you would integrate two other disjointed pieces of technology .... The traditional SIs still have a role to play."


I don't know who's right. I do know, however, that integration is a tricky issue when deploying SaaS. It will be interesting to see whether SaaS vendors opt to solve the integration piece for themselves, in an effort to build a broader customer base, or opt instead to "outsource" that function to third-party systems integrators.