Why SaaS Could Make Your IT Skills Irrelevant

The rapid adoption of software as a service is fundamentally changing the makeup of today's IT departments. The infantry of software developers, maintenance and support pros now taking care of on-premise software must garner new skills to stay viable, industry experts warn.

By C.G. Lynch
Wed, August 20, 2008
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SaaS adoption by enterprises has been aggressive. A report in May conducted by Kelton research found that 73 percent of large companies saying they would adopt SaaS or plan to adopt it in the next 18 months.

Coupled with the consumerization of IT — the idea that people at their jobs expect applications at work to look like the Web technologies they use at home such as Facebook and Google — many IT professionals will be forced to rethink their skill sets and what value they bring to their companies, says Jeffrey Kaplan, president of THINKstrategies, a consultancy that helps companies adopt SaaS applications.

"Unfortunately, most developers have built enterprise applications to meet their current systems environment and the end-user was very secondary," Kaplan says. "Now, the end-user experience is the driving factor, because end-users determine whether or not the application is considered successful."

In addition, maintenance veterans — the guys who handle the plumbing of IT — will see their job options start to recede. That reality can be both a challenge and an opportunity for the IT industry, says Peter Coffee, Director of Force.com, the platform provided by Salesforce.com for developers building SaaS-based apps.

"If you're in the ecosystem of working on staple, on-premise software, you can take care of feeding and watering those systems," Coffee says. "But those low value tasks no longer need to be done and you won't cover the IT equivalent of infantry. You want to be the IT equivalent of special forces."

Those special forces might include building new features on top of SaaS apps that fit a company's specific needs, or managing the relationships a company has between two or more SaaS vendors who both provide technology to the same company, making sure the systems talk well with one another, says Ken Venner, senior VP and CIO of corporate services at Broadcom.

"Working with vendors will really become ever more critical," Venner says. "One of the skills that will start to reduce is core infrastructure skills."

The Post-Modern IT Department

Today, most large companies use a mix of both traditional apps that they host with servers on premise and some that they let the Salesforce.coms of the world host offsite. But the idea of a plug and play IT department isn't a dream. Tim Davis, CIO of Popeyes Chicken, a national fast food chain based in Atlanta, Georgia, only has six IT people and not one server on premise.

Not all of his apps are SaaS-based. A SaaS vendor, by his definition, is a company that provides the software over the Web, hosts it, and charges a subscription fee (generally per user per month). Popeyes owns the licenses for some of its software, and worked out a contract with IBM to host and support the servers for those apps.

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