The other day Frank Gens, a senior vice president of
research at IDC (a sister company to CIO’s publisher),
briefed a gaggle of CIO editors about software as a service
(SaaS): the direction of the market (up, up, up!); the evolving
target customer for the big vendors (small and medium-sized
businesses, or SMBs); the drivers behind enterprise adoption
(line-of-business executives, who are less timid about the software-as-a-service
model than CIOs); what those executives are looking for
(business value and business relevance, what else?); why CIOs
should focus on SaaS now (“It gets your head out of the
infrastructure and into the business,” said Gens) and the
role of IT in the future enterprise.
“IT,” Gens concluded, “is the underwear
for business services.”
Not very glamorous, is it, being in charge of the
business’s skivvies? The CIO title, one might hope, would
put one in a more exalted position. Maybe being in charge of
the business’s ties or suit jackets. But, according to
Gens, and according to our cover story, “The Truth About Software as a
Service”, thinking of oneself as a provider of
business services is a lot more promising—and leads to a
brighter future for CIOs—than thinking of oneself as a
bulwark and guardian of the enterprise’s infrastructure.
That, CIOs seem to agree, is a career dead end.
Of course, one must be realistic. “The Truth About
Software as a Service” does not buy in to the hype that
any business function in any size enterprise can be handled
through a SaaS delivery model—and, indeed, adoption
rates, while growing, are still relatively low.
“Don’t expect something unique. If you need
everything customized, you won’t have success with
SaaS,” says Lloyd Hohenstein, VP for finance, human
resources, real estate and corporate communications at Schwab
Technology. But then again, do you really need something
unique? “No one’s going to care who you’re
using for payroll or Web conferencing, or even office
productivity applications,” says Martin Perry, CIO of IT
staffing firm Sapphire Technologies.
What’s interesting to me is how quickly SaaS
talk—IT talk about software and applications, integration
and security—turns into business talk, talk about
business processes and adding value to the enterprise.
That is the conversation CIOs need to have, and that,
increasingly, is the conversation they are having. Are you?