Averting SaaS-astrophe with a dose of reality

If you are reading this, we have survived the Mayan apocalypse and are entering a new year.  Score one for NASA, which correctly noted that December 21, 2012 didn't signal the end of humanity, simply the end of the Mayan calendar.  Now we can all turn our attention to the next impending calamity -- fiscal cliff anyone? 

While the US fiscal cliff is clearly cause for real concern, for those of us in the SaaS industry this economic cloud may have a silver lining.  According to a recent article in eCommerce Times, the cliff could drive even greater adoption of cloud and SaaS services in 2013, continuing the strong growth trajectory in these categories over the past few years. 

As an executive at a SaaS solutions vendor, hearing about SaaS’s growing market potential is music to my ears.  But as the CTO of a global enterprise, I’m keenly aware of the network security and management challenges caused by its rapid proliferation.  Balancing this risk-reward equation is a tricky operation, but eminently achievable if vendors and enterprise IT leaders collectively embrace the new realities of doing business in today’s mobile, borderless world and adapt their mandates accordingly.

Here’s my list of the “ilities” that matter. Some are familiar, some are new challenges, but in all cases we need to rethink our priorities as we enter 2013.  I welcome your comments and additions.

  • First up on the reality checklist for vendors is ensuring the adaptability of their solutions.  To date, most SaaS solutions have entered organizations from the bottom up, often without full approval or oversight from IT.  With enterprise IT leaders taking on more oversight (more on this later), developers would be smart to ensure their solutions are well aligned with business requirements, and can accommodate the changing landscape of security and administration that IT requires from their solutions.
  • Another reality vendors must face is that compliance is king, especially in a business world characterized by growing regulation, and they must work closely with IT to ensure the auditability of IP shared across the enterprise. Integrating systems that use DRM and permissions is one option to track where files are sent and who has access to them.  Every action taken on content must be fully audited to comply with both the existing and emerging needs of specific industry governing bodies. 
  • Mobility is no longer a luxury, but a necessity in today’s always on, instantly connected world.  Leading developers such as SAP are taking a “mobile first” approach in order to prioritize around business intelligence and the end-user experience and all of us should follow suit—if you haven’t already.
  • As open development thrives, SaaS options can give businesses more scalability for divisions and work groups, within the existing infrastructure. Consultant Cormac Foster summed it up well in a recent blog post, “In many large and very large organizations, SaaS can initially fit a niche need while the existing solution stays in place… no matter how clunky a system is now, a ‘rip-and-replace’ will always bring more near-term pain.”
  • Of all the new realities I cover in this post, usability is arguably the most critical, non-functional requirement to address in 2013.  The two driving factors of the rise of the importance of usability are the consumerization of IT and the importance of adoption as a key metric to judge success.  The CIO/CTO has always had an imperative to build usable software but the ubiquity of consumer applications has increased the burden to bring that type of usability into the enterprise.  Enterprises that produce software are changing how they are being judged and there is a new focus on the keys of measuring user adoption, which is causing us to realize that applications need to be used to be judged successful.  

We IT leaders know that our roles are shifting from a rigorous technology focus toward a broader business orientation and that accommodating end user success has become our highest priority.  I’m seeing the pendulum swing from just producing check-box feature software to allowing the users to choose what software is being used and for what business purpose.  This is a good change as long as the other “ilities” are being met to ensure that the solution meets the IT needs for compliance and regulation.  And I’m certain that the CIO who ignores their user community or their own policies is the CIO who will not survive the next apocalypse. 

The key here is knowing that supporting SaaS-based services in the enterprise is not about ceding control but changing our agendas.  Our emphasis going forward must be on proactively managing our IT partners and vendors rather than actively building and constructing our IT systems.

So those are some new realities for SaaS in 2013. The world has not come to a sudden end, but the rate of change of the natural environment is increasing (as evidenced by the largest iceberg breakup ever caught on film -- video below). We know that the IT and SaaS ecosystem will continue to evolve as well. If nothing else, Moore’s law demands it in the very nature of how computing power continues to grow at an increasing rate of change.  We IT leaders know that businesses have to adapt to their environments in order to survive the long term, but don’t let that necessary evolution compromise the security of the enterprise.

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