SaaS in the enterprise – the new legacy systems if we do it wrong ?

This Thursday I was participating in a panel at the ICT fair. The topic  was Software As A Service and the panel had representatives from the user perspective, the legal perspective and a couple of SaaS vendors like Microsoft, Google, TrendMicro and Salesforce. We were discussing both benefits and disadvantages about going to SaaS.

Some highlights:

Lars Jerkland from Google highlighted the trend of moving consumer applications into the Enterprise, Kaja Narum from TrendMicro talked about security as as service; which basically is about introducing orthogonal infrastructure services in the Enterprise which is kind of an emerging market. Johan Zetterström  from SalesForce talked about the cost and installation benefits of enterprise SaaS solutions. Jim Runsten, a lawyer at Bird&Bird talked about the importance of actually understanding what you buy and Alan Voreck talked from a user perspective about how SaaS applications for accounting firms seems to be a sweet spot.

I have always been very positive to SaaS solutions; they have a lot of capabilities that makes a lot of sense in many scenarios. However, when I was driving home in my car after the panel I realized that there is something about SaaS that makes me a little bit nervous about the near future. Let me elaborate:

Let’s take a historical perspective. What has been the focus of IT projects in the enterprise for the last 5 years ? Most people would probably argue that is has been the change to a service oriented way of working and thinking. The purpose obviously to give your organization a more flexible, effective and agile IT architecture.

A lot of things has been done to support this vision:  Single-Sign On Solutions, master data management, process externalization from legacy system, integrating these processes with the rest of the organization using standards based protocols etc…  This has been possible largely by taking back the control of information and processes that were deeply hidden in old legacy systems.

Ok, to this scene enters SaaS solutions.

Most of them requires separate login credentials, their data are not accessible from other SaaS providers; their processes not accessible from your local processes etc… etc…

Does this not sound like the old legacy stovepipe solutions that we are trying so desperately to get away from ?

If we integrate SaaS solutions in the wrong way (or not at all) to our existing architecture we might just very soon find end users with 10 sticky notes containing passwords to 10 different SaaS applications complaining about doing swivel-chair integration of data between the systems.

Buying SaaS without strategic thinking; is there not a risk of taking a 5 year step back in creating an agile and flexible enterprise architecture ? Hmm….

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