Sights and Sounds at the SIIA On-Demand Conference
Last week’s second annual SIIA On-Demand Conference was a bellwether for the state of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) industry. Rather than being composed of the usual suspects of SaaS speakers—Salesforce.com, Microsoft, etc.—the event included an interesting mix of prominent players and start-ups who clearly demonstrated that we are well beyond the ‘why SaaS’ stage and deeply into the ‘how’ phase of this important movement.
The event opened with a packed house of over 300 attendees, many with senior executive titles, and a relatively new name to the SaaS market presenting. Donald Proctor, the Senior Vice President of Cisco Systems’ Collaboration Software Group kicked off the event promoting its vision of the next wave of inter-office SaaS solutions based on WebEx’s collaboration platform which Cisco acquired in March 2007.
Although I might suggest that this wave of inter-office SaaS solutions is well underway and the acquisition slowed WebEx’s Connect ecosystem efforts, Proctor’s SIIA presentation was a clear indication that the networking company plans to put its shoulder firmly behind a renewed campaign to establish WebEx as an important platform for SaaS developers and corporate customers.
Erik Larson, Director of Marketing and Product Management for Adobe Systems’ Business Productivity Business Unit followed the Cisco presentation with Adobe’s stance regarding corporate collaboration via SaaS solutions. He demonstrated Adobe’s enabling technology for SaaS applications, and described its vision for a web-based future.
My colleague, Phil Wainewright, moderated a customer panel which included a cross-section of large (Chevron) and small (Pacific Northwest Economic Region Tourism Division) organizations leveraging SaaS to achieve their business objectives. While their views were timely, Phil and I had hoped to recruit enough customers to fill two panel sessions rather than just one. However, SaaS providers are still having trouble convincing their customers to publicly endorse their solutions in this fashion.
I had the privilege of moderating a panel regarding integration challenges consisting of representatives of Boomi, Informatica, Interweave and Pervasive Software. They all boasted about their individual approaches to delivering integration on-demand and admitted that there is still plenty of customization required.
Three of the most interesting speakers presented on the second day of the conference.
Dr. Werner Vogels, the Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Amazon.com described how his company has commercialized its internal operations platform to support SaaS companies’ storage and service delivery infrastructure requirements. In my view, Amazon has single-handedly resurrected the utility computing concept, and has made it work for a growing assortment of SaaS vendors and other business users. As a result, Amazon now looms as a major force in the on-demand marketplace, not just as a channel to market but also as an enabling vendor.
Jason Maynard, the software industry analyst for Credit Suisse and the strongest advocate of SaaS on Wall Street, suggested that on-demand solutions could create a new level of value which he called “Software as an Answer”. His concept reinforced the views I’ve espoused in my writings and consulting engagements that SaaS provides an unprecedented opportunity for vendors to aggregate, analyze and distribute data based on application usage patterns and statistics. This data can be used for benchmarking, marketing, sales and operations purposes. It can even create new business opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Anthony Lye, Senior Vice President of Oracle’s CRM OnDemand division, gave the SIIA audience a preview of the company’s new generation of SaaS solutions which will be unveiled at this week’s OpenWorld conference. They include an impressive user-friendly interface which borrows heavily from the best of the Apple iPod Touch, combined with a robust set of social networking and mash-up capabilities.
The most important message from Lye is that Oracle’s enhancements are not aimed at satisfying the needs of small- and mid-size businesses (SMBs), but to meet the growing demands of enterprise customers. This echoed Proctor’s presentation on behalf of Cisco. This shouldn’t be surprising given the recent partner agreement between Cisco and Oracle. Oracle’s PR machine will undoubtedly generate a stream of third-party endorsements of its new on-demand capabilities as part of its OpenWorld festivities, such as today’s announcement of an integration with Xactly.
These were important proclamations for a market where SaaS is too often viewed as a simpler and cheaper solution for SMBs alone. (A misconception reinforced by a recent statement by SAP.) Instead, Oracle and Cisco are confirming my longstanding view that SaaS offers unique capabilities which fit the escalating demands of an increasingly decentralized and financially strained enterprise market.
Ironically, some of the attendees who had not been to previous SIIA events lamented the conference was too focused on the enterprise. While I understand their frustration, I still believe the seriousness of Cisco and Oracle’s efforts to climb onboard the SaaS bandwagon will further legitimize this movement. This will lend greater credibility to SaaS as a viable alternative to traditional, on-premise legacy applications. In turn, SaaS will become that much more attractive to SMBs as well.
However, the SIIA conference also demonstrated that industry best practices regarding service provisioning and delivery, integration, support, sales and marketing are still embryonic. An example of the risks which the SaaS market must still withstand was the extended outage suffered by NaviSite. And an indication of the growing focus on service provisioning was the announcement by Aria Systems as the SIIA conference convened that it had closed a $4.0 million Series A financing round led by Hummer Winblad Venture Partners.