Traditional business software is complex. Really, really complex. Not only do organizations get locked in to difficult implementations, requiring huge investment, hard-to-reach ROI, but they also force the expensive software to do things it wasn’t designed to do. Take SAP, for instance. SAP provides a suite of business software for enterprise resource management (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) among other things. To implement an enterprise solution like SAP, you need
servers, IT (and lots of them), consultants, integration experts, business analysts, and system administrators. Then, there are a whole host of software applications which run on top of the system to do things such as make it easier to use.
Solutions like this represent one end of the software spectrum. Organizations have realized it’s an inane IT approach and have pressured the software industry to find a healthier way that provides A) a better user experience B) faster adaptability to business needs and C) improves their bottom line. As a result, way over on the other end of the spectrum, we now have SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) solutions. SaaS solutions are hosted in the cloud and are completely managed by the software vendor rather than within the organization. Most Importantly, SaaS solutions tend to be much more concentrated on specific business problems as well. For instance, rather than trying to solve every possible business need, like traditional software suites, SaaS solutions tend to focus on a core area of competency. They go after a specific problem and become the masters at solving it. Whereas on-premise solutions like SAP include ERP, CRM, Product Lifecycle Management, Supply Chain Management and Supplier Relationship Management, solutions like Salesforce.com, focus on delivering a robust and turn-key CRM solution in the cloud – focusing all its energy on a specific niche.
It is no secret that the more a system does, the harder it is to use. Sure, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, but the reality is when software vendors are focused on bloating applications with features, usable design suffers. Additionally, as you begin to widen the scope of your application, features tend to be less useful to all users, causing user confusion and frustration. No matter how carefully designed a user interface is, more features means more training and a longer learning curve which can be a difficult hurdle in user adoption for business software.
Specialized solutions tend to focus on a certain type of user. And this focus, allows the vendor to tailor the software to meet that customer’s specific needs and workflows. For instance, project management solutions are utilized across industries by teams of all sizes and scale and there are plenty of project management products available today, both as part of enterprise business suites and as turn-key cloud solutions. There are also highly specialized project management solutions, tailored for the needs of specific industries such as construction, design and IT. These specialized solutions have a much narrower focus and are therefore able to meet the unique needs of these industries. We often see these narrowly focused solutions readily available as cloud solutions rather than as part of suite of business applications.
We have all heard the question “Do you know a little about a lot? Or, do you know a lot about a little?” This holds true here. Systems that are focused on a narrow audience tend to build out a more robust feature set for the needs of that audience. For instance, content management systems handle all types of content in a rather generic way, whereas document management, digital asset management, and video management solutions (all of which fall under the umbrella of content management) will tackle each of their respective file types in a more thorough manner. Video management systems might support frame by frame video annotations, whereas digital asset management systems focused on marketing and creative needs and workflows.
With that said, too narrow of a focus means fewer features and less requirements being met. So how do cloud vendors compete with the extensive capabilities of complex business suites, while still delivering targeted, focused and easy-to-use solutions? Integration, Integration, Integration!
Cloud solutions have the added benefit of a relatively simple means of integration. Web APIs enable us to quickly connect cloud solutions to one another – thereby allowing each vendor to focus on their specialty, while still being able to access data for different business processes. With a web API, we can integrate solutions to:
This might entail building out specialized workflows or features that do not already exist in the system.
Through API integration, plugins and apps can be developed to connect systems that might not otherwise be able to communicate.
Many business needs are so specific that customizations are required in order to fully leverage a system. Rather than building from scratch, developers can leverage a web API to completely customize a solution.
Today, it is almost impossible for cloud vendors to compete without a web API and integration strategy. We have seen how effective integration and open developer’s networks have been in the success of products like Salesforce.com (Salesforce’s AppExchange includes hundreds of cloud computing apps available for integration with Salesforce) and with the Google Apps Marketplace (an app exchange offering out-of-the-box integrations of hundreds of tools with the Google Apps suite of products). Integrated cloud solutions give users the ability to pick and choose specialized solutions to meet their every need without the overhead of managing data from multiple locations. It is a win-win for both users and vendors.
In summary, when smart best-in-breed technologies work together, businesses work even smarter —faster, more secure, lightweight and with everyone’s favorite buzz word AGILITY. It seems these buzz words actually mean something to the SaaS, PaaS, and other smart _aaS organizations.