How many failed enterprise IT projects will it take, till too many people have died?
OK, the Bob Dylan reference may be overkill, but SaaS represents a revolt against the sins of enterprise software past. The challenge today selling enterprise software is that buyers are jaded; they have heard it all before, and they no longer believe. They want to see proof that you can deliver what they need, and they are extremely wary of projects with large up-front capital expenses.
Several years ago while I was working at an enterprise software company, we had some great software, but it was incredibly expensive to deploy across the enterprise. It was highly configurable, which made it perfect for the early market of visionaries, but the configurability meant that it was overly complex and unmanageable for wide deployments.
We set our strategy to invert this cost and effort pyramid. When we deploy into these enterprise customers, there were many patterns that we should learn from. Further, the software should be able to discover its environment, and configure itself, or at least provide an intelligent and minimal list of options to enable a human operator to configure it more easily. Our motivation was only partially about the end customer! We knew that if we could achieve our goals on configurability, we would also achieve a competitive advantage and be able to sell more enterprise license agreements. Which is what we really wanted.
We did achieve many of our goals, and I believe that all Enterprise software should undergo a similar kind of inversion. How many new features do customers really need? Yet how much do they complain about managing your software? This is partially why I believe design (not usability) is so crucial for software today.
The next step along this path is SaaS. Why have any infrastructure when none is (nearly) possible? Why provision infrastructure up-front when you can have it provisioned on demand? And why spend precious human capital learning about domains that are not core to your business, when there is a growing number of providers who will focus in these areas?