In the software world, it used to be that business pulled the cart: business users would discover a need, based on the situation facing them at the moment, pester software developers for a solution, then twiddle their thumbs until said solution hit store shelves. But by that time the original problem had morphed into a new problem, a problem only partially solved by the most recently released innovation. So business users would pester and developers would sweat out a new release that would be, if not dead, then at least crippled on arrival.
Then came SaaS. As much as we’d like to say that Software as a Service is all fairy dust and unicorn tears and that it completely magics away the problem lagging software innovation, that’d be an exaggeration – though it’s becoming less of an exaggeration as SaaS matures. Here’s why:
SaaS vendors need to support just one compatibility matrix – their own. Because SaaS requires only a supported browser to operate on the client side, the OS, database, and other software that client’s running become irrelevant. On the server side, the environment’s stable and predictable, which means that SaaS upgrades move from engineering to delivery much faster. And since there’s no need to ship a stack of discs to support a raft of operating systems and software, cost and logistical barriers to innovation fall.
SaaS encourages bolt-on innovation. Wheels don’t need reinventing when axles are pretty much standardized. When NetSuite, for example, wanted to add private social networking features to its cloud-based ERP/financials suite, it partnered with Yammer, which had already done the heavy lifting. Or consider Google Apps and the many SaaS solutions that integrate them. In a tiny sliver of the time it’d take to develop these add-ons from the ground up, SaaS vendors can bolt on this kind of functionality with little or no reinvention and offer it to subscribers.
Resources are finite. There’s an old saying that goes: “You can have it good, fast, or cheap. Pick two.” But because SaaS vendors are freed from supporting an existing on-premise software base, they can concentrate a larger share of their limited resources to building ever-better cloud apps, meaning users can have it good, fast, and cheap.
SaaS innovates exponentially. Rather than being limited to the linear innovation imposed by the nature of on-premise software development and delivery, SaaS will continue to marshal and multiply all the above advantages, making a big lead in innovation exponentially bigger over time – maybe even big enough to make the unicorns cry.