2007 was a momentous year for Software as a Service (SaaS), as it emerged as a disruptive force in an increasingly complacent industry. And while it would be easy to say that growing customer interest will propel SaaS to new heights in 2008, I believe there’s something going on right now that is about more than mere market momentum.
From my viewpoint, SaaS is becoming increasingly savvy, and it isn’t too far-fetched to think we’ll soon being talking in terms of SaaS 2.0. Here’s what I mean. In 2007, we were still witnessing the first generation of many SaaS solutions. Their limited functionality led to criticism that they weren’t as robust as their enterprise software counterparts.
In 2008, we will see more SaaS companies building out or partnering to provide more robust solutions and platforms, along the lines of salesforce.com’s Force.com platform. This is already happening in the market in which Xactly competes, as Incentive Compensation Management (ICM) offerings are morphing into full-blown Sales Performance Management (SPM) solutions, with rich sales performance analytics and functionality such as territory and quota management.
Just as exciting to me, SaaS will breathe new life into struggling enterprise software sectors in 2008, and will create entirely new sectors by lowering the cost of entry vis a vis traditional software models. This is huge. And the fast-expanding SPM segment is proof that it is starting to happen.
At the same time, SaaS will create entirely new ecosystems. In 2007, we witnessed the delivery of mash-ups combining data and SaaS functionality via single sign-on. In 2008, we will see SaaS companies supporting end-to-end processes and seamless user experiences through deep integration, software suites, or partnerships. And through it all, SaaS vendors will only get smarter about customer needs.
The advantage of managing all customer deployments under a single umbrella, as SaaS vendors do, is that we are better able to find common threads across customer problems, needs and desires. And customers don’t have to wait for the next release cycle—which, in the enterprise software world can mean waiting a year or more—for a SaaS vendor to implement major fixes and changes across the board.
In fact, SaaS vendors are free to be innovative and practically impelled to deliver ever more value, because we are developing a single line of code for one platform shared by all users. Finally, in 2008, Wall Street will increasingly wake up to SaaS as we witness an up-tick in SaaS IPOs, despite the down market predicted for the first half of the year. The recent successful IPO of Xactly partner and customer, SuccessFactors, is likely a harbinger of things to come.
Along these lines, Wall Street bankers, investors and enterprise customers will come to see the distinction between tactical SaaS applications that conveniently automate non-mission critical business functions like recruiting versus truly strategic SaaS applications like SPM, which are at the center of driving business growth and profits. Okay, I admit to a bias.
But, as the SaaS industry matures, I firmly believe it will continue to burn a hole right through traditional software models throughout the rest of this decade and beyond. Whether we call it SaaS 2.0 or not, the SaaS we’ll come to know in 2008 will be light-years ahead of the SaaS we knew in 2007— in terms of functionality, robustness and appeal and, most importantly, in its ability to game-change a customer’s competitiveness and profit picture.