CIO in the cloud: 7 SaaS questions with Flextronics' David Smoley

Summary:Flextronics CIO David Smoley is quickly running a software as a service shop and counts Workday, Salesforce.com and Service-now.com as three go-to providers. Smoley delves into the management issues, his plans to work in on-demand into his enterprise software mix and the big picture.

Flextronics CIO David Smoley is quickly running a software as a service shop and counts Workday, Salesforce.com and Service-now.com as three go-to providers. Smoley delves into the management issues, his plans to work in on-demand into his enterprise software mix and the big picture.

We caught up with Smoley at the Salesforce.com-VMware VMForce shindig on Tuesday. Here's a brief look at Smoley's approach to SaaS and IT management:

On working SaaS into his infrastructure, Smoley said he uses Salesforce.com as the standard for customer relationship management software, Workday for human resources and Service-now.com for service tickets. The latter service consolidated three ticket systems. The plan is to work in SaaS opportunistically as older systems are retired. "We're going to be opportunistic," he said.

What's the role of ERP? A funny exchange occurred when I asked Smoley about his ERP system on the back end. I asked whether Smoley was an Oracle or SAP shop. His reply: "Actually we use Baan." There's a blast from the past. For what it's worth, Baan became SSA, which was acquired by Infor. Smoley said Flextronics has invested in Baan and isn't going to simply shelve it. However, these systems of record are increasingly being relegated to plumbing with a best of breed SaaS approach on the top of the software stack.

Would he go SaaS ERP? Smoley said that he expects SaaS providers to increasingly build out more capabilities and expand in scope. For instance, Workday could move into financials. Smoley said he could evaluate a SaaS option next time Flextronics upgrades to a new ERP system. "ERP vendors will offer more capability on the way to more complexity," said Smoley. "The big upgrade will be disaggregated into pieces---HR, CRM and financials."

On what SaaS vendors bring to the table, Smoley said it's really about speed and agility. For instance, Flextronics can bring a factory up on a SaaS system much faster than an on-premise alternative.

What about SaaS sprawl? Smoley's best of breed SaaS approach could lead to sprawl. How will he manage it? "SaaS sprawl is a concern," said Smoley. "You need to have policies and procedures in place that enable you to take advantage of SaaS."

How does a SaaS strategy affect the role of the CIO? Smoley said SaaS requires a company to open up and allow others to take over key functions. For many, CIOs, who are bred to control the technology environment, it's a big transition. However, there are some big perks with users, who typically find browser-based software easier to navigate. With SaaS, "the view of IT can be more favorable because the software is easier to use," explained Smoley. "Executives complement you on Workday and the front line hourly guys also like the usability," said Smoley. "Usability is a byproduct of SaaS but it's an important one." On platform as a service efforts, Smoley said he's looking to avoid lock-in. For instance, Smoley has been plugging into experiments with Microsoft's Azure platform because he has a lot of .Net developers and applications. Smoley refrained from Salesforce.com's Force.com platform because it was largely proprietary. Now with a connection to Java, Smoley is more interested. Why? He has a big Java development group too. In fact, he'll use a few platforms as a service. "I'm looking to manage my investments in .Net and Java," explained Smoley. "These platforms will have to cross over (and connect). We're not going to commit time and money just to get stuck (with something proprietary)."

Topics: Emerging Tech, Cloud, Data Centers

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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