Thursday, June 18, 2009

3Qs, 3As and 3Rs with Treb Ryan of OpSource

So I'm wondering, where best to get some interesting insights (beyond my own, of course!) on SaaS and cloud computing right now? And I figure it makes sense to ask someone who makes a living helping to enable commercial pursuit of those technologies.

(See, it's out-of-the-box thinking like that that's why we industry analysts and commentators garner the huge levels of respect and remuneration we enjoy. But I digress.)

So I came up with three basic, yet insightful questions, and ran them by my respected industry colleague Treb Ryan, CEO of OpSource. Treb's company provides solutions that enable “cloud operations for serious SaaS and Web businesses,” as it says at its Web site. OpSource has a strong partner ecosystem, a pragmatic business focus, and as you'll see below, a pretty sharp CEO.

Dortch: What is the single greatest challenge to success for software providers seeking to deliver SaaS/on-demand solutions?

Ryan: The single greatest challenge of success for a SaaS company is the cost of customer acquisition. Traditional sales models when applied to SaaS [are] very expensive [ways] to grow your business. SaaS companies should look at low-cost customer acquisition strategies, such as free on-line trials, “freemium” products or a robust channel base, to help lower the cost of customer acquisition.

Dortch: What is the single greatest challenge to success for enterprises seeking to deploy business-critical SaaS/on-demand solutions?

Ryan: For companies deploying mission-critical SaaS [or cloud-based on-demand solutions] it [is] usually integration with your existing SaaS and non-SaaS data – ensuring, for example, that you don't have a separate employee record for example in your Taleo [on-demand talent management solution] implementation than you do in you payroll system.

Dortch: What do you see as the next "great leap forward" for the SaaS/on-demand solutions market – technological, organizational, perceptual or otherwise?

Ryan: Ubiquitous APIs [application programming interfaces]. All SaaS data and interactions will be available as standardized API calls to any other cloud application. This will solve the integration question, open up new channels in the form of value-added solutions and really open the SaaS world [up] to whole new levels of innovative cloud applications based on multiple data sources and interfaces. Think of the unified contact [management features] on the new Palm Pre that brings in information from Facebook, LinkedIn, your personal [contacts] and [Microsoft] Exchange. Very cool.

First off, big thanks to Treb for the time and the interesting observations and insights. Now, my recommendations.

If you are or wish to become a successful SaaS or cloud-based solution provider, unless your solutions focus specifically on IT infrastructure management and optimization, try to stay the heck out of that business. Getting into it if you aren't there already is not only asking for trouble, it's almost guaranteed to make customer acquisition and other operational imperatives more expensive and difficult. It also flies in the face of the primary benefits of SaaS and the cloud.

If you are deploying or wish to deploy SaaS or cloud-based solutions, you should start with a clear, detailed plan of what specific business goal(s) or benefit(s) you're trying to achieve. That plan should include a detailed assessment of current relevant assets, including the information driving business decisions, actions and processes today. You may find that you need a foundation of accurate, consistent and timely information before you need any new SaaS or cloud-based solution. (See my column, “For MDM, start by getting to know your enterprise data” for more on this – it's importance extends way beyond SaaS and the cloud.)

Whether you are or want to be a SaaS/cloud-based solution provider, user or both, focus your attention on technologies, providers and partners that support open, well-documented APIs. Even if you never write a line of code, APIs represent a safety net of interoperability and integration that can smooth and increase the business value of your SaaS/cloud-based solution. It can also help keep you away from that nasty infrastructure stuff I mentioned earlier.

More from some of those I consider “the few with a clue” in upcoming outings. If you've got subjects or people to suggest, or questions or comments, do please let me know here and/or at

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Heard of Rearden Commerce Yet? You Will...and Soon!

How about an on-demand, electronic personal assistant that can help you and your company save money – as much as 40 percent – on travel, shipping and almost everything else you and your colleagues do or use?

Is that a value proposition that gets your attention, or that of your CFO or CEO? If not, either I'm not being sufficiently clear, or you should be seriously considering a job change. I'll try again; you do what you think you need to do after reading a bit more.

Rearden Commerce provides an on-demand platform linking business users with services ranging from hotel, air travel and car rental reservations to airport parking, conferencing, shipping, international mobile telephony and expense management and reporting.

Rearden forms alliances with providers, negotiates discounts wherever possible, and sometimes acquires companies outright. For example, Rearden now owns ExpenseWire, developers of the expense management solution resold by leading payroll processing provider Paychex and the Orbitz for Business travel service. It also owns Global Ground Automation, developers of software that automates ground transportation reservation management. Strategic allies include American Express, JP Morgan Chase (watch this one!) and the above-mentioned Paychex. Rearden claims that more than 160,000 suppliers and partners are using its platform to deliver services to more than 4 thousand corporate customers and 2 million users.

All this means you or your company can take advantage of in-place discounts negotiated directly or by Rearden, or price-shop among available competitors Rules-driven software ensures spend management and the best available price on each purchase. And it's all accessible via a single interface, the Rearden Personal Assistant, which runs on computers and a growing range of mobile devices.

Unified business service access and spend management as an on-demand service. If reining in costs while providing easy access and choice gets any better than this for business users, whether corporate or individual, someone please show or tell me – but until that happens, if you run a business, work for a business, or are a business and you consume business services, you've got to check out Rearden Commerce. I think it's a prime example of a SaaS solution that delivers business benefits across the entire value chain, from service providers to the companies and individuals that do business with them – with (almost) no IT infrastructure required.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Imitation Being the Sincerest Form of Flattery...

...I am borrowing an idea from my former Aberdeen Group colleague and the coolest enterprise mobility analyst I know, Philippe Winthrop, an analyst at Strategy Analytics and the guy behind the most excellent blog "Enterprise Mobility Matters." In his recent posting, "Fireside Chats on Enterprise Mobility," he describes a nifty interviewing methodology he's introduced at his blog.

Quite simply, I'm borrowing -- NOT stealing -- and adapting it for those of you interested in SaaS and cloud computing. (At MIT, where I went to school, they said MIT students never lie, cheat or steal -- they elaborate, collaborate and borrow.)

I'm starting to e-mail questions to some of the people I believe to be the leading lights in the industry, and will share my questions, their answers, and my reactions to them with you here. So stay tuned, and send suggestions for interview subjects and questions you'd like to see them answer. Meanwhile, thank Philippe for me, should you see him or visit his blog, which I strongly urge you to do!