Ian van Reenen, CentraStage CTO and co-founder, explains why he believes that collaboration between SaaS vendors will be the key to unlocking the cloud.
I like Word; to me it's a great application for producing and accessing documents. I'm less keen on Outlook though; it's too big, bulky and prone to falling over. In my opinion Office for Mac just doesn't get enough love and PowerPoint is tired but it's bundled with the rest of Microsoft Office, so I use it. I'm not bashing Microsoft Office for the sake of it, it's certainly hard to argue with that level of worldwide adoption, but I feel the concept of all-in-one products has reached its zenith and it's time to move on.
There are just too many smart kids entering the market nowadays for that kind of strategy to work and not to be knocked down and replaced by more specialized services; those with a narrower focus, but more broad and robust interfaces to allow deep integration and collaboration within an ecosystem of like-minded offerings.
Let's also not forget that today's developers are being brought up in an ‘appified' world. People collect and organize multiple apps on mobile platforms that allow just enough sandboxing to ensure security and data privacy, but an otherwise open field for co-operation between complimentary apps. Why would these same people change their approach when designing enterprise services?
You can see how we got here. Historically, product leaders faced with high penetration have needed to add to their portfolio to maintain growth and consolidate their position. Hey, if you make great taps, and sell a lot of them, you might as well sell plugs as well, right? And then sinks and baths, showerheads, and what about toilets too. The problem is, unless your products all work with your competitor's products, you'd better make sure that each and every one of them is the very best. And therein lies the problem. No company can be the best at everything, forever. Sooner or later there will be a startup in a garage that will make a better tap and it won't work with your pipes.
When it comes to offering your customers what they want, I'm a big
believer in accepting that sometimes somebody else might offer them something
that you either can't, or choose not too. Technology vendors shouldn't try to
be something they aren't.
It seems like a no-brainer to me and cloud computing makes it easy. No longer will customers have to search for one technology that does everything and inevitably fails to do much of it well. SaaS technologies, combined with private or published APIs, allow customers to choose the best technology fit for their business and seamlessly integrate them, without the need for extortionate professional services.
I don't pretend to know the answer, but I'll offer an alternative scenario, and the success of iOS and Android in the mobile market provides a great insight. I would argue that their current dominance over competing platform such as Windows Phone and Blackberry 10 is not down to whizzier feature sets or a flashier UI; but rather due to their provision of a superior platform for application interchange – and that includes both the technical and commercial aspects.
Importantly, they allow their users (customers) to pick and choose – and change their mind multiple times – on the mix of specialist apps that collectively provide them with the experience and outcome that they seek. Specialized apps, produced by specialist companies, that do one or two things really well. Blackberry was too late in figuring that bit out, and Microsoft (initially) figured they could do it all themselves. There's just too much you can do on a mobile device for one company to be the best at everything, and that's a good thing.
And so we come to the cloud and cloud services. We're nowhere near understanding the true potential of the computing platform the cloud offers us as developers, and the range of possibilities that it will open up for both enterprises and consumers. Social media has blazed a path in demonstrating the value that can be built in a very short space of time. AWS is another great example, and as a platform for interchange it has a lot in common with Facebook.
Both companies reduced the barriers to entry for start-ups to create and market very small, very specialized applications to a broad set of users in order to grow rapidly. In that way they have a lot in common with the success of iOS and Android in the mobile world. All four, to varying extents, provide a curated market for experimentation and entrepreneurship, and a simple method to commercialize any traction achieved.
The old days of managing PCs and servers with monolithic on-premise products are over. Cloud services and the mobility, scalability and flexibility they offer are now starting to appeal to businesses of all sizes and vendors need to respond fast. We need to enable our customers to bring in best in class solutions easily and affordably rather than creating needless barriers or anti-competitive walls. We need to be flexible and open to collaboration or integration.
In my opinion, the exchange of data and functionality between
specialist cloud services will be key to unlocking the ‘internet of things'; technology vendors need
to decide what services they are offering and what they need to do to make
themselves indispensable to their customers. Software providers
need to grow, evolve and converge to ensure they're ready for the coming tidal
wave of mobile, cloud, social and big data realities that will make up the
internet of things.