Mr. and Mrs. CIO SaaS will not make your life simpler (but it is not necessarily a bad thing)

This is the continuation of my previous post: SaaS, CIOs and the Mongolian Steppes . (If you have not read it, you might want to consider a quick scan for context, but not 100% required)

(3) CIOs are rightfully asking themselves a lot of questions about what to do with this “SaaS thing”.

Enterprise IT is complex, no doubt about that. Some argue that the overzealous salesmen are to blame; others point the finger to the gullible buyers. My opinion is that it is intrinsic to enterprise IT where a very large number of variables (often conflicting) need to be taken into account. Typical constraints are cost, time to market, technology dependencies, legacy integration, current skill set, training requirements, vendor viability…

I often compare enterprise architecture to advanced calculus where the goal is to find the local maxima based on a series of constraints.

Above: a multidimensional function showing multiple local maxima (and minima); but that's not exactly the point.

The point is that in my opinion and contrary to what many CIOs are expecting, SaaS will not make their lives any easier. It could actually make them more complex, but that is a good thing!

I can already hear many of you say: “Wait a second?! What are you talking about… I thought the whole thing about SaaS was about not to worry about running the applications. I thought it was about IT staff not to wake up in the middle of the night because the server farm crashed. I thought it was about not to worry about patch management, tedious upgrades etc. How can all this not make my life easier? “

Well, if simplifying operations is the definition of “making my life easier” then yes, it will. But taking full advantage of SaaS in the enterprise IT environment will go much further than simplifying the operations. SaaS will add new dimensions of opportunities which CIOs will have to take into account, using my calculus analogy, SaaS will introduce a bunch of new variables which will make the search of local maxima more complex. BUT (and that’s a big but) the new local maxima will most likely be “higher” than the pre-SaaS ones.

Put differently, by making the running of mundane IT operations easier (i.e. by not running them), and by enabling additional sources of software, SaaS will:

(a) move the CIO attention to the even more strategic aspects of IT,

(b) add additional variables to the already complex enterprise IT equation which if handled properly will lead to a more optimized IT (higher local maxima)

that’s what will make the CIO job more complex; but as I said before, it is a good thing as the CIO function will grow (or grow further) into a core strategic function.


Granted, there is a looooong way to go before we declare victory to IT operations complexity, but the trend is there.


So, what are those additional dimensions/variables that SaaS is bringing? Following a good discussion with my SaaS partner in crime Fred, and another with John deVadoss, 3 dimensions emerged.

1) The “where” dimension

This is about the on-premise / cloud decision. With SaaS becoming/being a serious alternative, where should a particular service run? becomes a key question and a source of optimization.

· Do I keep my HR app in house or do I move it to the cloud?

· What about the new travel management system, should we buy the additional module from our packaged software vendor or integrate with the hosted solution offered by the new entrant? etc.

The where dimension by itself adds a lot of new variables as financial, political, legal and technical considerations need to be taken into account.

Governance is also tightly coupled with this. When IT, being the only holder of the datacenter key, was the ultimate gatekeeper of what runs or doesn’t run in the enterprise, the governance process (although already complex) was somewhat simplified. Now that business units can buy software services directly from the cloud, the control around what runs is lowered. It is a bit like the bouncer at a door in a night club. That person has pretty much full control on who gets in or not… “sorry sir, no sandals and you need a jacket…”; take the same bouncer and place him in a open-air rave in the middle of a giant park, there is no way the same “process” and “control” can be applied.

In other words, by smart sourcing the various services (i.e. finding the right on premise / cloud mix), optimization of asset can be achieved at the “cost” of managing additional variables.

2) The “who” dimension

The who dimension is something I have been discussing with John deVadoss quite a bit lately (albeit not enough). The idea is to provide a different set of capabilities to the end users (CEO, field sales team, factory worket...) based on some overall policies. Some call this the “consumerization of IT”, John calls it “differentiated IT” I do not know who whether he coined the term. The way to think about this is that with a lot of enterprise-like services out there in the cloud (instant messaging, email, desktop productivity…) a CIO could optimize IT by thinking hard about who should get the “true” enterprise grade service (fully featured, reliable, integrated, with backup etc. ) and who should get access to the “consumer” grade version in the cloud, potentially for a lower cost.

Again, although this is an interesting path to explore which could lead to some non negligible optimization of assets, there are plenty of unclear architectural challenges in this model. Some of them are:

· Support, who will support the consumer versions

· Integration, for example SharePoint integrates out of the box with Live Communication Server / Communicator for presence and other aspects, what about if you have part of your user base used MSN or Yahoo messenger.

· Composition, a big trend in the enterprise is the concept of enterprise mashups, how would one mashup “consumer”/cloud services with internal applications is unclear

· Security, by opening the door to a larger set of non standard/consumer software, the attack surface could be increased, patch management will be harder to put in place etc.

· Governance (again), even if some consumerization is allowed, the extend and non wild west proliferation of it will be another challenge to CIOs

Similarly to the where dimension, the who can lead to some interesting optimization but many more variables have to be juggled with.

3) The “how” dimension

This is what Fred touched upon in this postBy consolidating application deployment and configuration into a central delivery environment that uses streaming, virtualization and Web channels, it frees IT from having to deal with managing distributed desktops that may also be running on heterogeneous OS versions and platforms

It is a little bit what links the where with the who. Once you have identified where you will be sourcing the various service from, and you decided to whom you will deliver what services, the how dimension will dictate the best delivery model. Virtualization (both session and OS virtualization) will play a big role soon.

(I suppose what, when and why will be a but jealous of not having their dimension :) )

More seriously, it is important to understand that these optimizations might have been possible before SaaS, but SaaS amplifies the optimizations that are possible. It is only when you start introducing SaaS vendors and consumerization from the cloud, that the where and who dimensions make sense. And when you start dealing with the where and who, the how comes quickly into play.

As you might have noticed, this thinking is not fully formed in my brain yet, but I believe the core is there. And in any case, emerging /not fully tested thinking is what blogs are about aren't they? :)

Comments/Thoughts very welcome.