One of the most fundamental business lessons I’ve learned is that as long as you have a platform, you have the opportunity to create and demonstrate value. I didn’t learn that from Kanye West, but he addressed it in “Power” (the remix, of the classic “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album) when he said:
“Now we all ain’t gonna be American Idols/But you can at least grab a camera, shoot a viral/take the power in your own hands….”
Lately, I’ve been an IT Service Support Management analyst thrown into many Platform-as-a-Service discussions, due largely in part to the success of ServiceNow. I don’t cover PaaS – my colleagues Yefim Natis, Eric Knipp, and Lydia Leong do. Still, I cannot ignore the fact that PaaS has become part of the ITSM lexicon.
Again, I don’t cover PaaS, but it’s important that I have a fundamental understanding of the concept.
A platform is a foundational technology or service that is essential for a broader, interdependent, ecosystem of business. Not every product can become a platform, but to have platform potential research suggests that a platform must satisfy two criteria:
1- It should perform at least one essential function within what can be described as system of use or solve an essential technological problem within an industry.
2- It should be easy to connect to or build upon to expand the system of use as well as to allow new and even unintended end use cases.
So, ITSSM tools, automating IT management processes as an essential function, are enabling an easy way to build upon their core solution to expand the system of use to new, and even unintended, end uses.
Platform, I get, but Platform as a Service? Let’s start at home:
Gartner defines PaaS as application infrastructure functionality being offered as a cloud service or a cloud-enabled product. Adding technologies to support runtime execution and integration of business applications forms the foundation for Application PaaS – which is a cloud platform that enables the development and deployment of multitenant, elastically scalable business applications.
SaaS vendors have the opportunity and capability to productize the platform on which their core offering is built. It’s not just ServiceNow. ITSM vendors – Cherwell, Frontrange, and Easy Vista – who license in the SaaS model also message PaaS, but I’d like to understand how much value I&O organizations place on PaaS to build out business or IT capabilities, considering the last thing many of them want to do is support “something else”.
If the larger SaaS enterprise application software market is an indicator, then we may have our answer already. Gartner research conducted through last year also shows an overwhelming sentiment among SaaS buyers for the provider to have PaaS capabilities. A whopping 96% of worldwide respondents (n = 592) said that PaaS is a requirement when selecting SaaS providers. Clearly, the ability to have these cloud layers “tandem-sourced” is paramount for SaaS buyers.
The challenge for me is that qualified respondents of the survey are SaaS buyers of broader enterprise application software (BI, ERP, SCM, CRM, PPM, Collaboration Software, Office Suites and Digital Content Creation). Curiously, IT Operations Management software is missing in the analysis, which begs the question:
Should Infrastructure and Operations groups use PaaS capability as a selection criterion when evaluating ITOM SaaS solutions?
Many say I&O organizations already do, and have been doing it for years with on-premise platforms. The value proposition in these instances was that the IT organization could better justify a large capital investment by including the ability to meet a wider range of needs for separate organization needs. For SMB’s, this was, and still is, standard practice. You will find more I&O organizations who have used ITSM software to automate tracking and request management processes for human resources or facilities management, than you would who have not. You also see that VAR’s have made a pretty penny off of building capabilities and extensions on an ITSM vendor’s platform to create some level of competitive differentiation for themselves. In speaking to these organizations, the story often ends with how growing, specific requirements from the non-ITSM organization’s eventually outstripped their abilities to meet them, or how their ITSM partner created technical (read: financial) dependence that they could do without. For these reasons, many organizations switch tools and prefer clean installs (minimal configuration, only must have customization), and have pained memories of their adventures in extended capabilities.
Others say that this platform opportunity is completely different. The value proposition here being that this time, because both the system and application infrastructure (middleware) are fully managed a service provider. Since the maintenance of the middleware is a managed service, organizations have the opportunity to do what they did before, minus the customization trap and the required overhead. Essentially, organizations can extend the value of their purchase, maximize ROI and lower the cost of innovation.
It sounds like a good deal, but just because organizations CAN use PaaS, should they?
I think it depends, and it starts with some basic questions for I&O leaders have to answer honestly:
- Do your system engineers have the skills and capabilities to build applications on your ITSSM platform?
- Do your application developers have the skills/desire/bandwidth to build applications on your ITSSM platform?
- If you don’t have the skills/capabilities/desire/bandwidth, who will you source this work to?
- Does the cost of sourcing development work offset the potential ROI?
- Would some applications be better bought COTS than built?
- What are the hard and soft costs of building and maintaining the applications you build?
- To what level will the business need to be involved to drive change/transformation around the changing business processes being automated?
This is not to knock the PaaS model for I&O, but it is to get real about what it means.
The real benefit I find for organizations who have developed applications on the platform is that they are no longer at the mercy of their software vendor to deliver advanced capabilities. An organization armed with a platform who finds a gap in their core ITSSM offering can fill it themselves, in a much for efficient and effective capacity than in years past. I&O organizations are doing, and will continue to do amazing things on the platform, meaning that the majority of innovation will come from customers, and not the vendors.
Hmmm, maybe that’s why the 2012 ITSSM Magic Quadrant had no leaders and no innovators. Maybe this year we’ll put customer dots up.
So what will be the PaaS end game for I&O organizations? Will I&O organizations use the platform to create innovation solutions faster than their ITSSM vendor can, use them to automate a wider range of business processes, or both? If given the platform power to use, how do we ensure IT organizations don’t abuse and misuse it, so they ultimately don’t lose it?
For the record, I believe in platform for the people. The platform puts the power into the hands of the larger pool of innovation in the world – the I&O shops who use these tools each and every day. Add mass collaboration to the equation, and the possibilities are truly endless.
I&O leaders, will you use the PaaS to build custom applications? If yes, what and when? If no, why not? How much does PaaS weigh into your SaaS ITSSM tool decision?