Chaos As A Service March 13, 2009Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
Tags: Chaos, Leadership, Software, Software As A Service, Technology
I recently worried about the potential disconnect between users seeking the latest technology and IT leaders being able to successfully assist them in finding that technology. If we don’t gain the trust of users before they start buying solutions, they’ll acquire things that will hurt our companies and drive IT staff to distraction. This all happens with the best of intentions, but is a disaster nonetheless.
Traditionally, buying technology solutions was a complicated affair. Not only did you have to buy software, you usually had to buy the servers and infrastructure that would host that software. The complexity of the purchase invariably allowed IT to get involved before the purchase was a done deal. If nothing else, the size of the purchase would raise flags, and the integration of the solution involved a call to someone, somewhere, who would know how to run the system.
With the arrival of Software As A Service (Saas), technology acquisition is frighteningly simple. The infrastructure is hosted in the cloud, so users need not worry about buying heavy iron to run their new applications. The pricing is typically by the month and builds incrementally, so that the initial outlay is so low that no one notices. Most of these apps run within a browser, so users are up and running quickly.
Proponents of Saas point to these features as the core value of Saas. No longer shackled by the restrictive concerns of centralized IT organizations, users are free to find and buy whatever tools suit their needs. This makes users more effective and efficient, and we all benefit. Right?
Wrong! Unbeknownst to the user community, there is a method to the madness of a good IT shop. Believe it or not, people spend a lot of time making sure that all these tools and systems work together and share information to maximize their value. They also worry about tiny details like backups, security, business continuity, and disaster recovery. In some cases, annoying distractions like the SEC and government regulations affect how we integrate and manage systems.
When many users independently acquire many tools, the ability to integrate and manage those tools effectively disappears. While you may achieve some local optimization for a small group of users, you have eliminated any ability to achieve enterprise-wide integration and sharing. The value in our information systems is ensuring that accurate, complete information is delivered to the right person at the right time. If that information is smeared across independent external systems, tying it all back together is simply impossible.
Unfortunately, Saas is sold like snake oil to unsuspecting end users. Before anyone knows what has happened, users can go to a web site, sign up for a service, and start using it. Once entrenched, that service is hard to eliminate or replace, and IT plays catch-up trying to extract and integrate the data in the system with the rest of the company. The cost is enormous and the user irritation is high.
Don’t misunderstand: Saas has value and can provide a cost-effective way to outsource part or all of your IT infrastructure. But the acquisition of Saas solutions is no different from a traditional system running on your own servers. It must integrate and comply with your strategic enterprise architecture, along with all your policies on disaster recovery, security, document retention, etc. Appropriate IT scrutiny of Saas before the purchase leads to clean integration and happy users.
How do you make this happen? The same way every IT success occurs: good communication with users that builds trust and natural partnerships to find solutions. Start talking and serving users now, and you’ll avoid chaotic Saas acquisitions later.