SaaS adoption swells in Europe

There are some interesting patterns to adoption of SaaS in Europe, which is growing faster than many think, and not always in the countries you'd expect to be furthest ahead.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

There are some interesting patterns to adoption of SaaS in Europe, which despite the efforts of the European Union to bring us all together, is still more of a collection of separate countries than a single market, especially when it comes to business applications. I've discussed some of these in a video interview recorded by Dennis Howlett last week when we were both at Cloudforce London.

One of the most interesting phenomena is a subtle shift in adoption patterns away from the traditional progression, which usually starts with early adoption in Nordic countries, then shifts to the Netherlands and UK, and finally flows out to France, Germany and the rest of Europe. Anglo-Saxons will be dismayed to learn that France now appears to have edged ahead of Britain in the adoption race. This is borne out not only by my own anecdotal evidence and but also by recent research from Gartner, which found that "71 percent of French respondents said that their organisation currently uses SaaS for enterprise applications, compared to 68 percent in the UK and 45 percent in Germany. Gartner also reckons more French workers actually use SaaS when it's made available to them." (Report from UK technology website Hexus.channel. Another UK site Manufacturing Computer Solutions also covered the story).

Adoption remains highest in countries like Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, where today The Next Web conference is in full swing, including startup showcase presentations by these Web 2.0-oriented SaaS vendors: CoTweet, Huddle, Prezi and Quick TV.

Next Tuesday (April 21st), I'll be flying to Rotterdam for a half-day event on Making Money with SaaS, which has speakers from Progress Software, Salesforce.com, OpSource and local SaaS players 4Projects, Continuans, SaaSplaza, Twinfield and Xceliant. This is the second pre-conference seminar in the run-up to OnDemand Europe which takes place in June in Amsterdam (and which I'm helping to organize as a paid engagement, see disclosure). David Bradshaw from IDC has titled his presentation for Amsterdam in a way that I think captures the spirit of the times: SaaS in Europe: There's More of It Than You Thought.

Last month I traveled to Paris to attend the French ASP Forum's annual conference on SaaS, where I heard that SaaS was on the rise across Europe as businesses draw back from large conventional software implementations and investigate low-risk SaaS alternatives. Sylvie Chauvin of Paris-based research firm Markess International told delegates, "The credit crunch has not impacted demand," with 74 percent of respondents to a December 2008 survey saying they saw average or strong demand for SaaS.

In a keynote, US research firm Saugatuck Technology's Bill McNee noted a finding that Europeans have a marked preference for buying SaaS solutions from an IT consultant rather than direct from the vendor — almost a mirror image of US behavior. That finding bodes well for the rise of SaaS integrators and resellers in Europe, such as Paris-based Google Apps reseller Revevol, and made me think that perhaps Europe may become the crucible for exploring and defining the emerging SaaS/cloud channel model. It's a theme we'll be following up next week in Rotterdam and at the Amsterdam conference in June, among others.

Perhaps one reason why SaaS seems better accepted in France than in the UK is that the older acronym ASP (for application service provider) never gained the opprobrium that it attracted in the anglo-saxon world in the wake of the dot-com crash. The French have therefore been able to make a smoother transition to SaaS (although with the possible downside that the ASP model is still prevalent in France and is often seen as equivalent). France uniquely has a monthly specialist newsletter and website, La Lettre du SaaS et des ASP (to which I've begun contributing), which as its name conveys, is dedicated to covering the SaaS and ASP sector.

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