Crossing the ChSaaSm

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Subtitle:  Can old dogs learn new tricks?

The fiasco surrounding Sage Live’s public outing, immediately pulled after blogger Duane Jackson exposed some serious security flaws in the product, and brought to my attention by Phil Wainewright, begs the question: can non-SaaS vendors make the transition into the SaaS world?

The IT industry has seen many platform changes, and most vendors didn’t make it into the new world. The leading DOS-based word processor and spreadsheet, WordStar and 123 respectively, moved into Windows late and lost out to WordPerfect and Excel. The acceptance of PC networks as a platform for multi-user applications killed off the mini-computer and Unix vendors. Client/Server computing culled a few more.

So will the current market leaders make it across the chasm into the brave new world of SaaS applications? In my experience, software vendors have to take two hard decisions:

  • You need to write a new product from scratch, not try to re-implement the old product on the new platform
  • You need a new development team that was brought up with the new technology

Trying to implement the old product on the new platform with the existing development team would like getting the London Philharmonic to play “Anarchy in the UK” – it would be technically note perfect, but it would be horrible. You need to get people writing the product who breath SaaS, who have written web applications for years, who understand the environment, who instinctively live the visual metaphors. Otherwise you can get a product that technically is an SaaS product, whatever the definition is of that (and there are many), but doesn’t have the soul of one, doesn’t have the zeitgeist.

Most vendors don’t make the leap, they are tied to their legacy products, user base and development team. There are notable exceptions: Oracle was one of the first vendors to have a hosted applications back in the 1990’s; Microsoft has woken up and smelt the Internet coffee numerous times, even if their adoption has sometime meant changing the definition of what SaaS is about.

So, will today’s leading application vendors become the new leaders on the SaaS platform? History is against them.