What SaaS Means to the Future of the IT Department

As software-as-a-service offerings expand, IT jobs will change. Here's what the shift may mean to IT departments

By C.G. Lynch
Wed, October 29, 2008
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Vendors See a Radical Shift

In the future, say vendors, more IT professionals will be working for them, not for CIOs at end-user companies. And they'll all need new skills. That goes for developers as well as support staff.

Developers have been through big transitions in computing before (remember the move from mainframe computers to the PC?). Within the IT industry, vendors are preparing for a new round of upheaval as CIOs roll out offerings from the likes of Google (with its Google Apps) and Salesforce.com that let users run applications via the Internet. Zoho, a SaaS vendor that does most of its development work in India, offers a plethora of applications, including word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software.

Along with the consumerization of IT—the idea that people expect applications at work to look like the Web technologies they use at home (such as Facebook and Google)—the SaaS trend will force many IT professionals to rethink their skills and the 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 who handle the plumbing of IT could see their job options start to recede as maintenance responsibility shifts to the vendors who supply the applications. That reality can be both a challenge and an opportunity for the IT industry, says Peter Coffee, director of platform research at Salesforce.com.

"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 in a SaaS-based world, "those low-value tasks no longer need to be done [onsite]," he continues. Instead, he adds, you'll want your IT staff "to be the IT equivalent of special forces."

Ken Venner, senior VP and corporate services CIO at communications semiconductor company Broadcom, says such IT special forces might build new features that fit a company's specific needs on top of SaaS apps, or manage the relationships between two or more SaaS vendors who each provide technology to the same company, making sure their systems talk well with one another. "Working with vendors will really become ever more critical," Venner says. "One of the skills that will start to reduce is core infrastructure skills."

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