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Hostage as a Service - What's after SaaS?

     In the recent ITSMWP – The Lost Episode, Chris Dancy asked two questions that I think are quite closely related – and that I would like to respond to:
          “At what point does Software as a Service become Hostage as a Service?”
          “What comes after Software as a Service?”
               (these are both paraphrased, as I don’t have time to listen to the entire podcast again at the moment)

     Software as a Service becomes Hostage as a Service the moment you turn the key – though perhaps in a somewhat different context than Chris intended. Chris was discussing the aspects of a provider holding your business data or denying access to your SaaS solution when, for example, the bill has not been paid. This is most certainly something which must be considered very closely. Beyond having access to your data (through regular backups, hosting it on premise, using a separate provider or what-have-you) careful consideration must also be given to accessibility of that data through a different platform (as was also mentioned on the show). If you decide to switch vendors (or if your vendor is unavailable for whatever reason) what good is having your data, if you can’t use it to run your operations? If you research well, perform a solid risk analysis and plan for such contingencies, these really become moot issues. Awareness disarms the threat. There is another threat, however…

     The greatest concern I have about implementing a SaaS solution is version control.
     How many times has Facebook implemented an “upgrade” that you thought made it worse? Tough shit!

     When you have an on-premise solution, you face related risks – but not nearly to the same extent. You can elect to not upgrade to the latest version. While you run the risk of not having the latest features, fixing known bugs, or losing interoperability with other systems – you have the ability to weigh those risks and make that decision for yourself. You can wait for others to test the waters of a new version before diving in. You can decide to stay on an out-dated version while building a remediation plan and rolling out a new solution. Hell, you can decide to stay on an old version years after it is End of Life, if it is still working for you.

     The simple fact of the matter is that one size does NOT fit all. If 80% of a user base wants feature X implemented (or retired) it will happen, regardless whether or not it works for your individual purposes. If you have an on-premise solution (or better yet – and in-house solution) you have a much greater level of control over what does & does not get implemented. With a SaaS solution, you are at their mercy.

     We need complete ownership of and control over our data – we also want to still have the freedom of off-premise solution hosting, the agility of rapid deployment, the scalability of elastic computing and the flexibility of utilizing alternative vendors to manipulate our data.
     In addition, we need to follow ITIL’s prime guidance of “no tools before the rules.” We need to design our processes, THEN find or develop tools to fit, not vice versa. Buying a huge tool suite that “does it all” stands in direct opposition to this ideal. You simply will not find a full suite that perfectly aligns with your ITSM strategy and supports all your processes, as designed. In order to ensure that the tools we use align with our processes (without sacrificing our process designs to align them with the closest fit we can find) we must implement multiple point solutions that each align with the respective processes. But do they talk to each other? Not only do you need to be concerned with data format & accessibility, what workflows can pass through? Will your Event Management tool automatically open a record in your Incident Management tool? If so, what happens when one or the other is upgraded? Will that customization still hold?
     So, what comes after SaaS? PaaS. No, Platform as a Service is not new, but the model can answer all these concerns if those offering it can develop innovative new modes of delivery and dramatically simplified development.
     What is any ITSM tool really, beyond a user interface overlaying a simple data manipulation engine? A few bells and whistles here and there, but the majority of the difference between a Problem Management tool and a Change Management tool is simply the data structure and the workflow logic. If this is tagged as that, then kick off procedure X to generate this and request data input into those fields. All we need to do is to standardize and compartmentalize functions into interlocking, plug-in middleware components and select a pretty GUI.
     SalesForce and Hornbill are paving the road to the future – the next step is Open Source.

     We need:

          Point & click menu options (do you want this to be a drop-down, or a grid?)
          Drag & drop data relationships
          Visually diagram workflows and processes
          Development projects seeded with roughed-in, standardized templates that can easily be customized and expanded upon

     Take a hint from the website builder tools out there. Your mother could build a fully-functional, customized, e-commerce site without ever looking at a single character of code. If she does know code, however, she could do that much more.

     The days of multi-million dollar tool suites are dwindling and we need to rush that demise along with Open Source PaaS solutions.
     We need communities generating and sharing their own point-solution templates.
     We need solution design platforms that make developing on Visual Basic look like rocket science.
     We need the ability to host applications and data in the cloud (with backup strategies ranging from weekly archival to real-time transaction shipping) that can be built with little-to-no code by UI designers.

     Tool suite vendors have us hostage. SaaS providers have us hostage. The cost of on premise infrastructure has us hostage... The road to freedom is Open Source PaaS.

April 29, 2011, 06:16:09 am

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