Friday, December 7, 2007

Web 2.0 on a plane?

I couldn't resist, I had to post one more time before our trip.

It was reported today in the Wall Street Journal that JetBlue (airline carrier based out of the NorthEast of the US) is about to pilot WiFi access to email and IM.

JetBlue has access to a very small slice of the ground to air spectrum, so we are a little way off getting full Internet access bandwidth capabilities. But its a huge step in the right direction.

Imagine all the productivity you could gain on those long flights? A Sales Rep could access SaaS CRM to prepare for a sales call, you could get all your expense claims into your SaaS Expense tracking system, you could review your financial status in your SaaS accounting package, you could just do some personal banking. You could even run a sales call from the air using Webex or GotoMeeting!!! No more excuses for missing an internal meeting just because you're in transit.

Its going to come too late for my pending 6 hour flight to LA and 12 hours from LA to Auckland but its something to look forward to.

Off to New Zealand

We're off to New Zealand for the holidays. Can't say I'm looking forward to the 20+ hour trip with a 9 month old, but it will be worth it. We're heading away from the North East cold of 19 degree F (-8 Celsius) to the early summer of New Zealand for a month. (Most of it will be in Auckland which is a bit like Seattle really. Plenty of rain, but when its sunny its fantastic).

The beauty of blogging is that its location agnostic, so I will be continuing to write regularly. I am sure there will be plenty to discuss as Ben Kepes and the Unreasonable Men and I are trying to coordinate a time to meet up. Really looking forward to that, I really enjoy reading their original thoughts and ideas on SaaS and the Web 2.0 world in general on their blogs.

We will be staying at my parent's house. I just had them order "broadband", so it will be interesting to see how the service holds up. NZ bloggers have focused a lot on speed of Network service recently both inside of NZ and international connectivity.

The next time you hear from me it will be from New Zealand!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

SaaS resistant to economic downturn, On Premise not so.

An article by Sean Gallagher in reports that

"Goldman Sachs last week downgraded the vast majority of the software companies it tracks from "attractive" to "neutral" last week. "

What is notable about this report is that Goldman Sachs indicated they favored Software as as Service (SaaS) vendors to be more immune to the projected economic downtown attributed to the Finance and Mortgage problems being faced.

"The ability to quickly and easily turn on new applications with a
significantly lower initial cost of ownership makes SaaS an attractive offering for small- and mid-sized businesses," Friar and her team wrote, "significantly expanding the market for software applications. More broadly, and including enterprises, these benefits are likely to be key in a slower economic environment where purchasers of software may be increasingly skeptical of significant upfront investments which we anticipate to characterize 2008."

The same couldn't be said about On Premise, as the article also indicated that On Premise ISVs were more vulnerable to IT spending cuts.

This ties in well with the Unreasonable Men's Post on Will SaaS go the way of of ASP's, which indicates that SaaS is more than just hype and is here to stay. Although these Unreasonable guys accurately post that SaaS is more than a just cost saving device, this very feature makes it a more attractive option in uncertain economic times.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A day in the life of two technology workers

TimeWeb 2.0 empowered Technology WorkerTraditional "On Premise" Technology Worker
7am to 8amWalks 30 ft from bedroom to home office. IM's with team in India for daily handover of work, log details of IM in to SaaS Project Management Tool. Check Emails online using SaaS email.Gets ready to go to work
8am to 9amSkype with US East Coast team members, 10 minute meeting to discuss plan for the day and any urgent issues. Review any issues found by India Team. 1 Developer in NY is sick, but can continue working. Review Task/Issues List in SaaS Tracking Tool. Sitting on Route 80E waiting for vehicle breakdown to clear.
9am to 9:30Gets coffee and prepares work environmentGets Coffee and chats with coworkers
9:30am to 12pmCheck out code from online Subversion and continue development, continuous IMing with other developers and project managers to assist in problem resolution. Add useful tips and hints to company wiki.Check emails, has a question to ask India team but can't as they have gone home.Has to wait until tomorrow. Move onto next task. Status Meetings with entire US team. Delayed by 1 hour as Project Manager is stuck in traffic still. 1 team member calls in sick.
Half an hour after meeting starts, CTO walks in and wants a recap meeting, meeting starts again.
12pm to 1pm
Lunch, Write post in personal blog, catch up on emails etc.
Sit in lunch room and complain about impossible timeframes
1pm to 5pmContinue Development, stuck on a problem, ask social network for help. Problem resolved. Have an idea of a blog post, draft it out and post it. Decide you need to do some online shopping for the holidays. Complete development tasks for the day and decide to start on tomorrow's tasks
to stay ahead. Think of a great UI idea, you prototype it and publish it on Dev Web Server for all to review.
Server problem at work, development delayed by half an hour as cannot get source code from server. You begin development, stuck on a problem, send an email out to colleague. Out of office reply received back. You skip the problem and decide to surf for a little while.
5pm-6pmSkype Call with QA team, review work, testing starts. Project ahead of schedule, giving more time for QA.Send an email to India asking them to continue work which was due yesterday andhope for the best.
Send an email to Manager, stating due to server outage you are another 15%
behind schedule. QA complains because they haven't seen anything in weeks. Head home.
6pm -7pmDinnerStuck in Traffic
7pmUrgent IM from QA, problem which needs fixing. Problem fixed??
8pmIM or skype with India to handover tasks for overnight processingIndia reads email, can't understand the requirements, sends an email in response. No Progress for another day.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Enterprise Web 2.0 Generation has arrived!

In an earlier blog post I wrote about why SaaS will become the natural choice for organizations.
I wrote

However what ensures the longevity of SaaS is the next group of CIO's who are in college or have recently joined the workforce. This crop will see Web 2.0 as a totally natural way of doing business as its what they do in their personal lives.
Storing files and documents, in Google, in Microsoft Live, social networking, wikis all are ingrained in this new generation and SaaS will become the obvious choice.

It appears the enterprise world is beginning to realize this.
An article by Heather Havenstein in ComputerWorld published today looks at how "Companies wrestle with tech demands of younger workers".

Chris Scalet, senior vice president and CIO of Merck & Co was quoted
Scalet, senior vice president and CIO of Merck & Co., noticed that as his daughter studied, she simultaneously listened to her iPod, sent text messages and browsed through pages of the Facebook social network.

"How she will work in the future will be very different from how we work today," Scalet said. "She is going to expect [collaboration] tools ... to be able to work. What scared me is that we don't think that way today as corporations. We think as baby boomers [about] this very traditional, structured, formal [work environment]."

Heather also states that IT executives are beginning to plan for the 80 Million children of baby boomers entering the workforce.

In the November 15,2007 Edition of CIO Magazine , editor Elana Varon interviews Gary Hamel,

Gary states that

If you're a CIO, you need to spend a lot of time out on the fringes of the Web because that's where the innovation is taking place. You need to spend a lot of time with people under 25 years old

These current trends all vindicate the work practices (which are contrary to traditional enterprise policies) I have in place with my development teams. I place no restrictions on Social Networking, IMing, private emailing, reading and writing blogs and wikis for my staff, in fact they are strongly encouraged. There are multiple benefits to organizations with these types of practices.

1. We don't really have set hours for working, and if an urgent customer issue,request or deadline arises in the middle of the night, our staff are easily contactable via these mechanisms and collaboration at midnight is often a common thing, our customers are often surprised at how often we deliver overnight. Cell phones are very seldom used in these situations apart from reading emails.
2. Often new product and usage ideas are generated by the usage of Social Computing tools at work and at home
3. Collaboration is taken to a new level, any "productivity loss" from social computing is more than made up by the improvements in communications and the reduction of miscommunication.
4. New staff members feel more comfortable contributing ideas and questions, as they are in an environment very similar to their "college social network".

Once again I will say:
This Web 2.0 generation will provide the tech leaders of the near future,the Cloud is here to stay.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Google, Firefox no match for Microsoft?

Computerworld recently published an article States slam Google, Firefox as no match for Microsoft
It leads off with

In a brief submitted to federal court, state antitrust regulators dismissed companies such as Google and Mozilla, and technologies such as Ajax and software-as-a-service, as piddling players that pose no threat to Microsoft's monopoly in the operating system and browser markets.
They essentially want the courts to continue antitrust monitoring Microsoft for another 5 years until 2012

Another quote:
In their most recent brief, the states countered Microsoft's contention that Web-based companies -- Google,, Yahoo, eBay and others -- and new Web-centric technologies constitute what Microsoft dubbed a "competitive alternative to Windows."

The Department of Justice is supporting Microsoft on this one.

Setting aside any arguments of Pro/Anti-Microsoft camps, is it not fair to say that despite Microsoft's dominance in the the Desktop/OS market, companies such as Google have experienced phenomenal success and growth in the web 2.0 and as such would it not be hypocritical to recognize that success and then try to restrict Microsoft further?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

SaaS- Vertical Market or Generic Platform?

I read an interesting post today from Julian (yes another fellow kiwi and further evidence of NZ's entrepreneurial spirit).
Julian discusses the pitfalls of building a SaaS application for a single vertical, where there is risk of that vertical reducing in size or changing in requirements.
I totally agree with Julian, that a generic based application should be the goal when building your product. When making design decisions you should consistently look at how you could build a specific vertical requirement as a configurable generic feature.

Julian then goes on to state that

Would you rather have 1% of 1000 vertical markets? or 100% of 1 vertical market? These days, I’d rather have 1% of 1000 vertical markets!

I don't quite agree with this, there are times where it isn't as clear cut.
Certainly companies like and even the company I am currently involved with Forcelogix have built platforms where if your business is centered around a salesforce selling to customers, then its independent of the vertical market your business is tagged to. It could be Finance, Consumer Goods or Life Sciences and many others.

However, where might a vertically focused application be preferred?
1. Where the vertical has repeatable specialist requirements
2. The market is large enough to support a new SaaS player. US Pharma industry is a good example where there are around 100,000 Sales Reps in Pharma
3. Bootstrapping your own startup and you have years of specific industry experience and contacts within prospect organizations.
4. Prospective early funders/investors might more easily see the value proposition of your product if a vertical is targeted.

I tend to refer to Life Sciences regularly in my blog, and that is due to this very issue. Its happened more than once, where I have built a generic business application and because our initial customers happened to be Pharma, it made it a lot easier to sell to other Pharma organizations. We became experts in this industry. It doesn't mean you can't go on to be successful in other verticals,far from it, it just makes it easier to focus and to grow your business, at least in the earlier stages.

There are proven SaaS success stories with both vertical and generic approaches. You just need to evaluate what is best for you.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

SaaS and Life Sciences CRM

I was just talking to a friend of mine at
We were discussing their Platform as a Service offering One of their earlier adopters is a company called Verticals OnDemand. By utilizing, they have been able to build a fully functional SaaS Life Science CRM Platform. They have partnered with a number of industry respected organizations and appears to provide the complete solution for Life Science ETMS and CRM. Word has it that they are getting strong interest within the Life Science Community.

This could be another major win for the SaaS movement. Life Sciences at first glance would appear to be one of the last verticals which would consider SaaS due to its stringent regulatory processes. But if Pharma organizations are strongly considering Verticals OnDemand, then I strongly suspect many of the potential objections have been handled and overcome, due in no small part to being based on the proven platform. This is an organization worth keeping an eye on.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Appliances offer more than 'On Premise' less than SaaS

One of my favorite bloggers, Bob at SmoothSpan has a post (almost one month old now, but its taken me that long to think through it) which discusses the question Are appliances SaaS?

A growing number of vendors are delivering a service platform where their software is either deployed to the customer
1. In a Hardware package which is plug and play in customer network.
2. A Virtual Machine which can be downloaded and installed by the customer.

These appliances contain all the application components needed to run the service application including the DBMS.

Appliances are definitely an improvement over a traditional On premise solution, but there are a number of key support and operational challenges that SaaS handles well and Appliances do not.

1. Appliances tend to have better Version Control and Management for Upgrades than On Premise solutions. Vendors can push updates out to their entire network of installed appliances, which means there is no version mess and support burden of handling different products.

But there is a question mark about the reliability of this process when dealing with large numbers of appliances. I can guarantee that if you send an update to enough appliances, that a number of these updates will fail.

This could be caused by the usual risk factors:

1. Network outage on Customer side during. Less likely to happen in an established hosted provider like Opsource
2. If the software update has database schema changes, something could crash during this process. If you are updating thousands of databases this could very well happen.
3. Security and Permissions have been changed.
4. Hardware failure

On the other hand, one of Bob's respondents stated a major benefit of a Virtual Appliance is that it gives the client the opportunity to test the update before applying to production and even goes so far as to say that this is preferred at times over the risk of a single update in a true SaaS application. I would suggest that the opposite is true. In one of my earlier blog posts I discuss the huge problem 'on premise' vendors face with versioning and upgrades. The same holds true for virtual appliances albeit with less risk of the OS environment changing. Customers will test at their own pace, and more often than not the decision to upgrade will be delayed sometimes indefinitely. You therefore lose some important agile benefits of a SaaS system. Customers do not regularly get updates and miss out on new features, the SaaS vendor spends more time on supporting, developing and testing for different versions with updates having to handle different environment scenarios which has a direct impact on service delivery, and more time is spent working with the customer through the QA phase and working through potential objections to the upgrade.

There is no doubt that Appliances are superior alternatives to On Premise, in fact an integration appliance should be your first choice, if you have a mix of SaaS and On premise systems which require integration from behind the firewall. A Good example of this is Cast Iron Systems which has appliances for SaaS systems and Rightnow.

SaaS in New Zealand

I haven't been back to New Zealand for more than 3 years, but this Christmas we're heading there for a months vacation. As I count down the days, my wife and I find ourselves surprisingly talking about the food.

Ponsonby Pies,Fresh Fish and Chips, Marinated Green Lipped Mussels, Bluff Oysters,Burger Fuel (my wife's favorite), NZ Thai Food, Vogel Bread, Cheezels, Flat Whites, the list could go on forever. Anyhow I digress,

Being away for so long, its easy to forget that New Zealand is a nation with a surprisingly large number of talented and forward thinking technologists and business people. In my recent readings its apparent that NZ has really embraced SaaS. Paraphasing one of the following bloggers (sorry I forgot which one), due to NZ's geographical isolation, New Zealanders more than most realize that with Web 2.0 and SaaS, your customer base is the entire globe. You are no longer limited by oceans and borders.

I have included here 3 SaaS blogs in New Zealand whom I have been following with great interest.

Unreasonable Men
Diversity - Ben Kepes

Love to hear from other Kiwi Bloggers too,

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The agility of SaaS vs. the risk of On Premise

I read an article today from PC World titled SAP uninterested in enterprise SaaS

This is a very typical response from a traditional enterprise software vendor who underestimates the pervasiveness and stickability (I like that word a lot better than traction) of SaaS. Lets look at a couple of quotes from this article.

The ERP giant was "not so interested in 'drop-in' services for three or four users, he said. "We want to run the company, we want to run the business, we don't want to just support some services for some users in the company."

This simply indicates the inflexibility and non agile nature of On Premise vendors. Of course they don't want to support 3 or 4 user systems. The cost of sales and support is just too high for them. On premise vendors struggle with both providing customers with new features regularly and version control which Bob at Smoothspan blogs so effectively about.

Back in my On Premise Days we struggled with these exact same problems which haven't changed today.. We had a major product release once a year, the problem was and is how did you deploy that release to all your customers. In the end you don't.

The whole on premise product release process is non agile in nature because of the risks involved. You can't bring out a product release more than once a year because you have to test every permutation of what could go wrong with each customer's installation and build upgrade procedures for all previous versions in existence. You then announce to the customer that there is a new release with a whole bunch of new features and it will cost them 1 million in services to upgrade. They look at the new release, and then say "thanks but no thanks". They look at the risk of something going wrong in the upgrade and say its too risky and too expensive.

In the end you find yourself using your latest release for new customers only and you are stuck with a version quagmire. Its a vicious cycle as each new release then has to cope with yet another older version upgrade.

John Rowell from Opsource also posts about this issue of SaaS vs. on Premise

The beauty of SaaS is obvious, one instance of the application to upgrade and all customers benefit from new features. Because of this, SaaS becomes very agile. You can bring out cool new features once a month because you don't have the baggage of versioning and handling different customer environments.

SaaS also is a whole different philosophy when you begin looking at user counts.
SaaS doesn't care if you are 25000 users or 3 to 4 users. It can handle it all. There is no "sorry you are too small for us". SaaS can't handle large user count systems? Somebody better tell that, earlier this year they closed a 25000 user deal.

"They would prefer a quick win, that could be some CRM functions on demand," he said.
They might later want to bring in on-premises software, he said. "That would take the risk and cost down."

It was suggested in this article that SaaS was seen by enterprise customers as a short term fix before going to a long term on premise solution.

Once again I will speak from personal experience. We had one enterprise prospect, it was down to us and a traditional on premise vendor, we won the deal because our competitor quoted an 18 month project, with a 7 figure cost, plus annual maintenance fees. We offered a SaaS solution and said we could roll out immediately and would release new features once a month. 6 months later we had one thousand users in multiple countries all using the same instance as all other customers. Consolidation of country data was painless, (can you imagine what this would have been like with an on premise system) and customer feature requests were being delivered monthly with our entire client base benefiting from these enhancements.

Can you imagine a customer in this scenario saying lets implement this SaaS system just for the short term and then go On Premise in the long term? Not Likely...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Scrum in a FDA regulated environment

I was asked the other day about how you could possibly implement a Scrum development methodology in a regulated environment. In the past I dealt with many CRM systems which had to comply with PDMA and 21 CFR Part 11 compliance for systems involved in the physician sampling of controlled substances and RX drugs in the US market.

This post isn't strictly about SaaS but I still thought it worth blogging about.

When building software within FDA boundaries there are certain key processes which need to be adhered to, to ensure your software is 'validated' and to reduce the chance of irregularities being discovered by FDA or Customer Audits before you find them yourself.

The key starting point for this conformance is a Quality System. When Auditors come in, this is the first document they ask for, "Where is your Quality Manual?". They will then perform an audit to verify that your product release processes conform to what you have written in your Quality System.

Now the traditional process in this case has been the Waterfall method, with a top heavy design document stage. This process really means big lags between releases and continual revision of documents and the required re-validation of documents and coding after change. The revisions were unavoidable in waterfall as no one got to review the product until close to the end of the long development phase. Then there is the good old Traceability Matrix. This is used to ensure that every requirement bullet point in your 180 page document Functional Spec and 200 page Design Document is traceable through all stages of the Waterfall. An impossible task to get right the first time. We are talking potentially thousands traceable points. When undergoing validation, random checks through this matrix would undoubtably find a missing link and things would have to start over again.

This is in contrast to Scrum, with its iterative release process, sprint cycle of 3 to 4 weeks, daily meetings, managable small sets and clear cut requirements and early feedback. The traceability matrix is small and easily tracked and issues are found early on as the progress is visible on a daily basis.

The perception has been you cannot use SCRUM in this regulated software environment. But in reality, what auditors are looking for is a Quality System you have implemented which is consistently being followed to ensure compliance with the legal aspects of your software. So if your Quality System states that you use Scrum Methodology and that your documents contain the expected FDA Requirements, as long as you are conforming to your quality system during your development projects, then you will pass validation.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Why SaaS will become the preferred solution over On Premise.

I just answered a linkedin question about what will become the predominant solution SaaS or On Premise. I thought it worth posting about.

Firstly lets have a look at why some organizations may have a natural resistance towards SaaS. An Article in CIO magazine lists a number of these reasons which I summarize here.

1. Service levels cannot be guaranteed by SaaS vendor
2. Lack of configurability
3. Sharing functionality with hundreds of potential competitors
4. Elimination of CIO role

I will add a couple more here

1. Hosting data outside of firewall.
2. Loss of control due to business units running "rogue" IT projects using SaaS.

Lets take a look at why these 'inhibitors' become non-issues for SaaS.

1. Firstly SaaS Service levels. Gone are the days where a startup SaaS vendor will try to host their own service. This is not a core competency, as such SaaS vendors follow their own value proposition ie find an expert to handle Hosting and service levels. Companies such as Rackspace and Opsource will handle this side of the business with guaranteed up times.
2. Lack of configurability. SaaS obviously enables you to implement a system which can be used in a very short amount of time, bypassing on premise challenges such as server provisioning and software installation. However SaaS does not mean the end of configuration. as an example provides a very flexibility platform for building your own custom objects and UI, as do many other vendors. This enables you to model the 20% of your business process which is unique to you.
3. Sharing functionality with other organizations. This works both ways, sure you may have had an idea which the SaaS vendor has taken and made available to others. But this means you too will benefit from other organization's ideas. Furthermore the uniqueness of your business process is part of the configuration model mentioned in item 2 above, it is not part of the standard functionality of the multi-tenant single instance.
4. The CIO role will not be eliminated. In fact I see it going the other way, where it becomes even more a strategic organizational role. The CIO must make decisions on what is SaaS and what is on premise, they also need to determine how these systems integrate and how information is conveyed within the organization.
5. Data outside of the firewall. This continues to be a major topic in the news. But as the trend of utilizing data center experts such as Opsource and Rackspace increases then the risk continues to reduce, as these companies' entire success hinges on security and reliability.
6. Rogue Projects. Many time business units within an organization will look to a SaaS solution as they have been told by IT that their needs cannot be serviced in a timely manner internally. As SaaS becomes more widely accepted and recognized by Internal IT not as a threat but as an asset then SaaS projects will not be seen as rogue projects but rather an IT recommended solution. This will enable CIOs to adopt SaaS in a more structured and integrated approach.

The current generation of CIOs may have these inhibitions towards SaaS and will take time for these 'fears' to be overcome.

However what ensures the longevity of SaaS is the next group of CIO's who are in college or have recently joined the workforce. This crop will see Web 2.0 as a totally natural way of doing business as its what they do in their personal lives.
Storing files and documents, in Google, in Microsoft Live, social networking, wikis all are ingrained in this new generation and SaaS will become the obvious choice.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Is SaaS a profitable business model?

Read a blog post today by Charles Fitzgerald.

I'm simplifying a little here but Charles basically discusses the challenge of profitability when there are high costs of acquisition and of retention which then extends the time required to recoup the costs from the subscription revenue. and NetSuite are used as case studies, along with examples of the cost of sales cycles and their balance sheet numbers.

The temptation in this scenario is therefore to focus on enterprise sales, the higher user counts would then offset the cost of sales. Now this makes sound business sense looking at pure financials.

The problem I have with a purely Enterprise strategy is that it leaves the SMB market underserved. This got me thinking.

Back when I was involved in selling and implementing on premise or ASP hosted Life Science CRM we had the sample problem, the cost of selling and in fact the cost of implementation were the same whether it was a 30 user site or a 2000 user site so we much preferred working on the larger sales opportunities, so its something that isn't new and unique to SaaS. In fact in those days we didn't get full payment until implementation was complete, accepted and rolled out, so it could take months to recoup the cost anyway.

However lets take a look at the breakeven equation, as per above you could go for the larger user counts (Enterprise) to offset the acquisition costs OR you could look at making the cost of sales so low that its inconsequential.
(you could also try upping your subscription prices but that would make you vulnerable to Competitor pricing)

The question then becomes ...
Why would you attempt to sell to SMB's the same way you would as Enterprise? .

Firstly, what is the cost of sale comprised of:
1. Sales Rep Time and Remuneration
3. Salaries of Operations people involved in the sale
4. Travel?
5. Opportunity Costs

The greater the time a sales rep spends on one sale means less time available for other deals, which means you are forced to increase the size of your sales force to handle leads. If your product is overly complicated then you need a larger team of presales engineers for demo purposes.

It seems to me then its really the people involved which incurs the cost.
Rep face time in the Enterprise world is about relationship building,
A successful SaaS selling model is different. Remember, SaaS is a state of mind.
You're evangelizing a way of purchasing and using software as much as a product.
Which means a successful SaaS sales cycle needs:

1. No Sales Rep involved during early and middle stages of sales cycle.
2. No technical people required to demo and setup until the close stage, which is possible if your product is self demoable and user can sign up for evaluation use online.
3. An application which can be provisioned and configured by the customer themselves, this being a basic tenet of what a SaaS system needs to provide anyway.

For item 1, what do you in lieu of rep to prospect face time? Viral marketing is one way - effective use of online networks with vocal customers evangelizing your product. It's all about building up trust. And if we've seen one consistent thing on the web, consumers trust other consumer's referrals more than anything.

To close the deal, you are going to obviously need some interaction, but that doesn't need to be time intensive, could be a couple of phone calls and a WebEx/Gotomeeting presentation.

Is SaaS a profitable business model? If you have built your product well, its easy to use, is self provisioning and self configurable and solves business problems, then the answer is Yes.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

'Webifying' the Desktop

I have been reading some interesting blogs lately.

Treb Ryan
Bob Warfield

Treb makes the prediction that "All applications will be web applications".
Somebody like myself who is exclusively involved in SaaS will obviously agree with that point, although I would amend it to be "All applications will have a web component to them, will be deployed over the web and will have a shared information repository on the web"

Bob makes some interesting and valid observations about the future of the desktop and how it can survive in the web X.0 world.

What this got me thinking about was "what is good about the desktop which cannot be currently emulated in the browser".

Despite all the fantastic innovation that Web Developers have achieved, they still fall short of the user experience which the desktop can provide be it Vista, Mac OS or Linux. This could be due to the boundaries of the browser.

A lot of talk is about Mashups right now, a good thing.

However wouldn't it also be cool if on your desktop you had your dashboard from your SaaS BI tool displayed in one corner, your list of Tasks from your SaaS Scheduling app in another, a list of contacts from your SaaS CRM tool and then your Question and Answers from Linkedin at the bottom. You could then drag and drop items from one SaaS app to another. All the processing of data would be handled on the hosted app side and you are simply rendering UI results on your desktop.

There is still huge potential in browser apps but the desktop could still provide some interesting opportunities.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Web 2.0 again!! and Social Networking.

I actually read a lot of the questions coming through on via igoogle.
As we discussed in some of my earlier posts the term Web 2.0 appears to have different definitions depending on who you talk to.

On linkedin, everyone is talking about Social Networking and Collaboration and defining this as web 2.0. (Everything is X 2.0 nowadays as if by putting the number 2 in front of a term we have suddenly and miraculously discovered a new technology)

So now Web 2.0 is social networking which also includes collaborative tools in the business environment.I am an avid user and supporter of these types of tools being it a wiki, blog or networking sites like

Less focus is placed on line of business applications being transformed by Web 2.0 in particular SaaS. My interest is obviously biased towards this, but I think the success of Web 2.0 collaboration tools within a business organization actually hinges on the adoption of a SaaS mindset first.

By having these SaaS business tools in place first, it gives context and sensible subject areas to Social Networking and colloboration.

A good example I think is Life Science CRM. I read an excellent post today
Scott Monty

Pfizer is partnering with a social networking site and will get access to the thousands of doctors who network there. Now this is something that the Sales reps would love to analyze and review for the zipcodes in their territories and the best place for this would be in their CRM system. Not an easy task if you aren't using a SaaS application. By having it in CRM, it structures what is essentially unstructured information. I can picture one day a Life Science SaaS CRM solution which has a social networking and blog portal for doctors as part of its feature set.
(Although you have to be in compliance with all FDA regulatory requirements.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

SaaS Product Pricing

Found an interesting question in LinkedIn a couple of days ago. Someone in my network asked about how they should price their SaaS offering to customers.
All sorts of complex scenarios were discussed and extra charges for infrastructure was suggested.

Frankly, IMHO that type of talk misses the whole point of why SaaS is attractive to many organizations. SaaS is not about technology or the platform, its all about a service that you pay for in a regular cycle. As a potential customer, If you get charged for infrastructure or server hosting, thats not SaaS, its an an additional unnecessary cost which you were trying to avoid in the first place with SaaS.

You look at SaaS because you don't want the higher cost of ownership of buying servers, software licenses and the additional cost of setup.

A secure and stable hosted environment is a given and a customer should not be expected to pay for that as an extra cost.

With a SaaS solution, initial provisioning should be transparent to you and pricing should be simple, a single per user monthly cost possibly on an annual renewal.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Excellent BLOG -Challenges CEO/CTOs face

I found an excellent BLOG post Jason Calacanis about the challenges CEO/CTO relationships face in startups. It was almost like reading an autobiography of my earlier days.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Seven Steps to successful user adoption of your Software as a Service Solution

We've been busy provisioning a whole bunch of new customers in my role at Forcelogix.
Only now have I had time to sit back and look at what we have done in the last few years to get to where we are.

Forcelogix is not my first "foray" into Software as a Service Solutions, but when we started up Forcelogix, it was at a time where was truly setting (and still is) the benchmark in this space. As such, customer expectations and knowledge were far greater than my last foray into On Demand services.

As we have been acquiring new customers, it has been a learning curve for us as an organization. We have our own Product roadmap of course but in implementing our product for these new customers it has "encouraged" us to fasttrack some of the items on this roadmap. Without successfully doing so, we would not have closed the deals that we have now and we would not have retained the customers we already have. A successful ongoing SAAS business is all about Monthly Recurring Revenue and without successful user adoption you will fail miserably in this area.

As such I decided to write up here and provide to you the list of "Must Haves" you will need to implement if you are looking at starting up a successful Software as a Service Company. Hopefully this will be useful to some of you out there.

1. Agile Development Methodology.
Your Dev Team must adopt an Agile Development Approach to delivering product.
Software as a Service Development is all about low cost, high quality and speed of delivery.
You cannot afford to adopt a bloated and slow approach to delivering features.
Users will identify features and issues that will become showstoppers unless you can resolve quickly.
The ability to deliver new features quickly will also help retain user interest in your product.

2. Dynamic Localization.
If you have any hope at all of selling your product to Multi-National Companies, you need to provide a web based mechanism for your customer to localize to their language and culture. Localization cannot be the traditional Development function. Each customer and country has their own terminology and set of idiomatic expressions. For successful user adoption of your product, you need to be able to let the customer decide how to translate your product.

3. Offline (Occasionally Connected) Module.
Without an offline module, you will not get far in the B2B On Demand Space.
Users will always want to have the option of using your product without an Internet connection.

4. Reliability.
Not much needs to be said about this. If users cannot access your system they will stop using it. Just make sure you have plenty of redundancy in your data center, and detailed recovery plans which have been tested.

5. Ease of Use and User Experience.
Users have very little patience, and if they are required to read a "book" on how to you use your product and attend 3 day training courses you will not have good user adoption. A 2-3 hour Web conference should be sufficient. User Experience goes hand in hand with this. A non intuitive application is doomed to failure. A simple UI along with good performance will go a long way in building up user adoption. AJAX can help with the "perception" of speed in your application.

6. Measure.
Provide a convenient way for the "Client" Administrator to monitor usage.
Implement a usage report in the "Admin" view of your product. You need to identify patterns of low usage and act on them quickly. You may see such things as lack of communication, "incorrect data" are the cause of some users not using the product.

7. Communication
Communicate regularly with your key contacts. Make sure you are always up to date on customer perception and what is happening in the customer organization. Personnel Changes, IT Policy changes, Business process change can all impact user adoption and you need to spot these early.

I hope you find this useful.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tutorials on LINQ

Excellent blog with tutorials on LINQ from Scott Guthrie.

Scott Guthrie on Linq

Friday, July 20, 2007

LINQ and useful Blog

Last few days finally had a chance to do some research, after the last few months of heavy development and deployment for new multinational customers.

I focused on LINQ the Microsoft technology as a potential answer to something which grows tiresome for me when architecting on demand applications. I don't know about you all out there, but I am getting tired of building Data Access Layers and trying multiple different ways of defining SQL statements in this layer and reviewing all sorts of frameworks which are supposed to help in this area.

After playing around with LINQ in Visual Studio.NET codename "Orcas", I can say I am extremely excited. LINQ is basically Microsoft's response to this problem. It provides a way of managing in code, relational databases as objects. Thus merging the normally disparate application code and SQL queries against the database.

Also found an excellent Blog from Wriju at Microsoft. Check it out. I found it very useful.

Wriju on LINQ

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Microsoft Startup Zone

Check out this link. Microsoft article on Forcelogix. This Microsoft site provides excellent case studies on SAAS Startups and on what they are doing in Partnership with Microsoft. There are some excellent Blogs there also with info on startup challenges, funding etc.
Forcelogix Article in Microsoft Startup Zone

Monday, July 16, 2007

New Stuff

Note to self: find something original to write about Silverlight, WPF, Linq and Acropolis.
This is really cool stuff to be playing round with, and there are plenty of bloggers writing about them now. Just need to find a different angle to discuss.

Internationalization and Localization

Just spent the last 2 months, building and rolling out localized versions of our web and windows products to multiple countries including Japan, The Netherlands, UK and Ireland, Belgium and Greece.

This was a true challenge in the scheme of things as localization and translation is traditionally done at build time of applications, but in the On Demand world this is not practical as every client has different needs and we are using a single instance of the application (hence the term multi-Tenant).

Our challenge was two fold, building a localization architecture which was dynamic for both the web piece and then being able to synchronize localization information to offline clients.

What we did was move application string resources to a SQL Server datastore and still use the .NET Framework Resource Manager. This enabled us to provide an Admin module to our clients in our On Demand Web Application which allowed our clients to perform translations dynamically. The benefits for doing it this was immense, the client could see the results of their changes immediately in the front end application on the web, and the translations would synchronize down to offline users on their next synchronization.

The project is a major success and we have users all around the globe using our application localized to their culture.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Web 2.0, 3.0 or is 2.5 what we really need?

As CTO of a SAAS delivery company, I am constantly trying to keep up and research the plethora of industry trends (and hype) to identify technologies that could actually benefit our business. You have to be really careful to separate what is truly ground breaking and what is market hype.

When the term Web 2.0 became widely popular a little way back, it really encapsulated the ideas of providing a rich user experience within the browser framework thus eliminating the need for desktop applications.

And to action these ideas, the AJAX approach was widely touted as the new enabler for this, although many of the core components of Ajax have been around for a while (Microsoft Outlook for the Web being a prime example of this).

The interesting thing about web 2.0 and AJAX as that many of the early sites using AJAX were really B2C type solutions , I had not seen any real Web Based Business Applications fully using AJAX.

We use Microsoft Ajax.NET components in our products, and have looked at AJAX enabling libraries such as Scriptaculos.. All these libraries are innovative and useful in their own right in reducing dev time, but fundamentally AJAX really a whole bunch of javascript which may communicate asynchronously with the server.

Its always interesting to see other sites talk about how AJAX is true thin client, but the amount of javascript which gets downloaded can be truly immense and running as interpreted script in the browser, you can be just as susceptible to performance issues as any windows application. So there is always a balancing act of functionality vs. performance with Ajax.

Now everyone is talking about Web 3.0 and what that may entail.. Lots of posts in the blogosphere about this.

Before we even get there, I think a Web 2.5 might be more realistic for business applications.

I have been looking very carefully at 2 Microsoft technologies.
SilverLight (which is very new) and Clickonce (which has been around since .NET 2.0).

In fact as mentioned in earlier posts, we have deployed Clickonce Offline Editions, but as part of this I have also included ancillary clickonce apps which are truly multi-tenant based and utilize our web based backend via web services for functionality. Its works incredibly well and believe me the development time is signigicantly less than AJAX equivalents we have developed.

Now I am evaluating Silverlight which definitely looks like a competitor to Adobe Apollo (which packages Flex and Flash).

I am most definitely excited about Silverlight. It may be a plugin but it is cross browser capable and platform independent. It also utilizes a cutdown form of the .NET framework which will give it rich development capabilities and is compatible with Visual Studio.NET.

I can definitely see Silverlight working hand in hand with our clickonce solutions.

I think Silverlight is going to take us to that Web 2.5 Level, where we are actually using newer technology than AJAX which will enable business solution providers to deliver truly rich internet based business applications with significantly less development costs and time than the traditional AJAX solutions. Some may compare it to Active X Control development for the web, but key differences lie in cross browser capabilities,.NET Framework and security model.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On Demand Sales Analytics and

I haven't posted for a while, its been a very busy development month. We have been busy deploying our offline version.

Anyhow, I have included a link to an interesting blog post/webinar by Senior Product Manager of Analytics at Darren Cunningham.

Measuring Sales

In this blog Darren refers to our Forcelogix Products as examples of the power of on demand solutions for Measuring your organizations sales performance.

He also links to a research paper which you can pull down from the post about Forcelogix products.
Download forcelogix_coaches_sales_performance_management.pdf.

In case you weren't aware, We have a tight integration process with using their AppExchange API, Our app will utilize the API against Professional Editions of and higher.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Building and deploying Reports in Multi-tenant applications

One of my early challenges in SAAS was to determine the best way to build and deploy reports for our customers. These would include a standard set of reports common to all clients and then customized reports which are unique to a particular customer.
We didn't want to "reinvent the wheel" by writing a reporting engine which many organizations have already done.

I have always been keen on the idea of using Microsoft Reporting Services even in the early 1.x versions due to its tight integration with SQL Server and Analysis Services. It may have been limited in report functionality and suitability to multi-tenant web based solutions, but I found a way to get it all working using the Web Service API and careful management of Report Folders.

With the release of SQL Server 2005, Reporting Services is taken to a whole new level.
With the inclusion of invisible parameters and the ability to use parameter variables in the connection string we were able to come up with a far more elegant and scalable solution to multi-tenant reporting. If there is interest, I will publish details on how we did this.

We are looking at adding more functionality to our reporting module by utilizing more features of RS 2005 such as multi value parameters and drilldown.

We looked at a number of OpenSource reporting products which are good in their own right, but RS 2005 always had the upper hand due to its close fit around SQL 2005.

The end result, is a quick and low risk way of maintaining common reports across multiple clients (only one upload of report is required which complies with the multi-tenant model) and to deploy customized reports to specified customers.