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

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