Running the company in the clouds

7 min read

Most traditional IT effort ends up creating obstacles to business - it's almost like IT doesn't like business. Here's a success story from inside Xactly Corp over the past year. The mission was to implement an information architecture to run the business 100% on-demand, software-as-a-service, with no components installed either in our datacenter or on individual users' computers. That was July 2009. Today, we're well on the way to realizing this ambitious vision - Core internal processes: • - CRM and marketing automation, plus customer cases management • Xactly Incent - sales comp and bonus/commissions management • Zuora - subscriptions management, billing, renewals and quoting • Workday - ERP and HRIS, plus enterprise workflow • OpenAir - Professional Services Automation From quote to cash, from initial lead generation, to collection of payment and recognition of revenues, we manage transactions and reporting in these cloud apps. They're integrated using web services. Employee desktop, productivity and communications tools: • Google Apps - email, calendars, documents, spreadsheets and sites • Skype, WebEx, GoToMeeting • SaaSure - single sign-on and centralized user administration • - centralized, cloud-based file storage and file sharing Microsoft apps are still available when necessary but the transport vehicle is no longer Outlook, and the sharing platform is not SharePoint. This works. Period. Supporting apps - business plug-ins and value-add extensions: • InsideView - account insights, market intel and instant lookups • Marketo - marketing automation, email campaigns, lead scoring • HubSpot - blogs and links, blog-to-lead, link analytics • Echosign - e-signature for legal documents and customer agreements InsideView is an awesome account lookup tool, and since it's in the cloud it doesn't go stale or require a manual import of new info every few weeks. Marketo links elegantly into Salesforce data and its own environment to help us run elaborate marketing campaigns and track responses in a single place. HubSpot Intelligence: • Birst - online analytics, funnel reporting • Adaptive Planning - budgets, forecasts, actuals comparison • Taleo - talent onboarding, applicant tracking • Sonar6 - employee performance management What are the advantages? Without going too deep into the SaaS vs. on-premise debate - version upgrades are a breeze: come in Monday morning and your whole company is on the new release. Nobody worked the weekend to babysit a conversion. There wasn't a 6 month project to manage change across all functions in order to map old processes to new. It just happened. "Oh look, there are three new fields on the customer contacts screen". Secondly, costs are stable and predictable: the monthly subscription costs are known in advance and they only change when we add more seats to a license. There are no hardware emergencies, no Java J2EE / Websphere / Oracle stack to maintain, and no datacenter upgrade projects to overrule genuine business priorities. The only IT resource is a systems administrator - closely linked with day to day operations and involved with tactical management. They don't use Microsoft Project to tell you about a massive SDLC schedule going out many months into the future. Today they're working on stuff that we're going to deploy this week or next week. We will see their work in the same month the idea started in. Wow! That's quite a concept for IT.... A strategic factor, to balance the tactical: despite all the day-to-day effort being focused on short term goals, the long term view for each product is assured by all its customers driving enhancements and innovation, together. Being able to deploy upgrades easily, ensures we don't get stuck in time or preclude our upward compatibility because of an in-house system or a clunky customization. Security? Absolutely! The leading on-demand providers offer security against malicious entry, data theft and malware that is better than most Fortune 500 companies' internal infrastructures (IDC, Gartner). Disaster recover is equally superior in SaaS environments when compared with any company's corresponding datacenter setup. Uptime too, is vastly superior to what a midsize company might hope to offer. While outages do occur - and they're no fun - they always beat the in-house numbers, with three-nines and four-nines availability. To sum up, it's not just about cost savings - it's about faster, more fluid information and business process. We freed ourselves from the traditional shackles of IT rigidity: best practices, compliance, disaster recovery, SDLC, the PMO and the enterprise portfolio management process, and, of course, all that datacenter rigmarole that puts roadblocks in the way of business. While there is some work to do before we have it all running like a Swiss clock, we're already reaping the benefits of agility, responsiveness, economy and durability. It already feels like success, and we're very optimistic about the rest of the journey.