Has SaaS become what it disrupted?

I read a piece about 2 weeks ago that gave me one of those moments. You know, when a whole lot of pieces fall into place and your mind races. I was entitled 

You Become what you disrupt

 Since that moment i’ve become increasingly aware of this trend in the SaaS world. (Its like when you buy a new car, suddenly all you see is the same car). Its my contention that SaaS has itself fallen foul of some of the very (bad) traits it set out to remove. All for sound economic reasons, but the proof is there.

 
Lock in – Force.com , Amazon.com, Google.com  (plus a whole bunch more ). Here’s a list of the glittering stars of SaaS, internet and PaaS. All going after lock in. Tim O’Rielly comments on the Google App Engine.

Keeping the internet as an open platform is a choice. We didn't understand what was happening to the PC ecosystem, but we've seen this movie before, so we should recognize and fight this plot line when we see it happen on the internet. We need to keep our cloud services vendors honest, and tell them we want an open, interoperable platform, not one based on lock-in.

 Bob on Smoothspan suggests that Amazon should more aggressively move toward lock in to further its financial success. Hmm,  I thought lock-in was so last decade? Isn’t one of the tenants of SaaS the way you can change vendors easily?

 Interoperability. Hey software vendors, get this. We want our applications to work together!  Have a quick think about why Microsoft desktop applications are so wildly successful. They did two things – 1) they made it simple to use. The leap from DOS to GUI was massive in making PC’s mainstream. Secondly they made all the programmes you commonly use work together on the same platform. Its my understanding that way back when they brought the various services like word and excel together one at a time (the argument about how successful this was done is irrelevant for most people). They made it easy to do.

 
Fast-forward to Monday, SaaS commentator Phil Wainewright went into overdrive about the SFDC / Google Apps integration. Saying a bunch of stuff including.

This is a showcase for on-demand integration. Salesforce for Google Apps is a close integration of two distinct on-demand application stacks, in which both applications can continue to follow their separate upgrade and evolution paths without breaking the integration.

(In the interests of honesty & integrity, so did I about Salesboom .)

But think about that. So basically your saying wow, you can integrate two apps together. Ummm so like integrating your SAP GL with CRM from Seibel. Or how about Payroll with Accounts. Ok, i’m assuming it happened a bit quicker, but the mere fact that Phil is trumpeting this as a major event is…well sad.  This isn’t new, way back it used to be called EDI, then that became unfashionable so it became integration, then webservices and the latest mashup. Sorry, but I would have thought in a 2.0 world this was EXPECTED.

 
Identity, look at what is going on here. The fact that OpenID exists is to address the same issue users have been fighting since application silo’s were in nappies. The nirvana here is single sign-on. IMHO Google’s suite of products is so useful because i’ve got identity federation across them. This still isn’t addressed. Take the iPayroll / Xero example above. They got database integration, no identity bit. To the best of my knowledge none of the vendors allow for single sign-on (does Force.com? Does anyone?)

 Proprietary systems – ok here (with one large noticeable exception) SaaS providers seem to be doing quite well. The ability to create customisations (widgets or whatever) seems to be quite universally applied. My question is (and the point of this post), for how long? Using history as an indicator, this free for all can’t last. For a couple of reasons. 1) Vendor share, someone will dominant and change this. You’ll be able to write customisations, but for one company not many. Then you’ll see a bunch of small companies writing auxillary apps for the core…force.com anyone? And 2) Commercial pressures, freeware just don’t cut it. Ad funded apps, well for the time being ok. But the relevance of Adwords is declining, surely that makes that model questionable?  Sooner or latter the market is going to come under pressure. That means a couple of things, consolidation and pressures to retain (lock in) customers…

 
So has SaaS failed in becoming like the old established players? Who has it failed? Was it all inevitable? Am i way off base?

 

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