Sold on SaaS

Four companies that swear by software as a service tell why.

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SaaS Showdown

  • Company: Informa PLC
  • Location: London
  • Business: Scientific, academic and professional information services, databases, conferences and training

Informa has a diverse product line and is a decentralized organization, with offices in 40 countries and regional CIOs. The company's IT reflects that model, says CIO Jonathan Earp, who is based in Westboro, Mass. And therein was the problem.

Informa had centralized SAP systems for back-office functions like accounting, but each of the front offices -- where sales and marketing took place -- "was left to find its own solutions," Earp says. Even more diverse systems came in via a string of acquisitions, and by 2006, it was time to bring some order to the chaos.

So Informa standardized on a sales force automation offering from SaaS provider Salesforce.com Inc. Many of the old sales systems went away as a result. "Functions are more integrated now, more secure, robust and stable," Earp says. "They are also better managed, and that's an important point."

He says Informa was able to tailor the Salesforce.com services for each of its five lines of business.

But while Salesforce.com was the system of choice for Informa's salespeople, the chief marketing officer wanted to tailor a custom-developed marketing system that she had brought in with an acquisition. "We would have had all the problems you'd expect with a custom solution," Earp says. "It wouldn't scale, it was difficult to access remotely from sales offices, there were replication issues and quality issues.

"The chief marketing officer lobbied against Salseforce.com," he recalls. "She called it 'The McDonald's of CRM -- tastes great but has no nutritional value.' "

But Earp was adamant. "As the CIO, I have a buy-before-build mentality," he says. "I was going to go into building my own CRM system kicking and screaming." He finally got permission to go forward while the chief marketing officer worked on her custom system.

Now, two years later, the custom system is still in development, he says. And although it might not have been possible two years ago, systems from Salesforce.com and its partners are now capable of performing the marketing functions as well as the sales functions that Informa requires, rendering the custom marketing system redundant.

Earp says that SaaS offers a huge advantage over both custom development and in-house implementation of a commercial package such as SAP's CRM software because SaaS tools are easy to roll out to users a little at a time in a rapid prototyping fashion. This is important, he says, because even a package implementation involves a lengthy period of requirements definition, during which miscommunications inevitably occur.

"With SaaS, you are showing users something to react to, constantly," Earp says. "We in IT talk about agile development, but it's very difficult to do that. Business managers are married to their processes until they see something better. And when you go in with a blank sheet of paper, they are not seeing anything better."

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