CRM SaaS business applications began with a wimper back in 1999 reminiscent of a litter of hungry puppies. Over 90 percent of the vendor products, and often the vendor them self, then called Application Service Providers, disappeared. Salesforce.com and RightNow Technologies were two that made the transition. It was the same time that the Distance Learning vendors were chasing a hot market, which then grew cold, only to re-ignite when they re-formed as the Social Software market. Suddenly the mundane was hot.
A few large software companies promoted the term Cloud loudly, while taking pains to avoid defining what, exactly, was meant by Cloud that made it any different than application outsourcing. In 2013 we are not much further along. By strenuously refusing to reveal the critical elements of Cloud application architecture, the market for Cloud, and the subset of software as a service (SaaS), is akin to the mystery meat served in your High School cafeteria when you were a kid. What, exactly, is that stuff?
And it matters. Maybe if your vendor’s data center (or the one where they lease space) is in the US, and you are running your applications in the US, you don’t really care. But if you are in South America or Central / Eastern Europe, Africa, or almost all of Asia, the laws of physics will catch up with you if you are integrating old legacy system data with data sitting in an ACD / IVR / CTI application in another country, and an application server and multi-tenant data server with you customer information sitting in yet another country.
Simple stuff is simple, but difficult computations, analytics, workflows – if reliant on backend data mixed with data sitting in a giant shared file server somwhere – that is tough, and no one is doing it well and no one is talking about it. Vendors are whistling past the graveyard and hoping you will whistle along rather than ask for references.
If the G-20 economies sputter after three years of cranking back from the abyss, we’ll see how much tolerance your CFO has for pushing the boundary of Cloud business applications. HCM? Easy. Sales automation for business people? Easy. Survey software, email, chat? All pretty easy. But many other functions are tough, and what you are getting is yesterday’s technologies repackaged as Cloud – not a new and more flexible platform to respond to growth and hard times alike. It’s not really like a utility in the end, is it?
It is early days, and for SaaS to live up to its promise in areas like complex consumer customer support centers, a lot of technology investment is going to have to happen that has not happened yet.