UK trade groups come together to develop SaaS/cloud standards

UK and EU trade groups are coming together to set out standards for SaaS/cloud that will be for the benefit of all. Such a move has never been attempted on the past. There was no problem is getting all the actors around the table but the proof will come in the outcomes.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

There has been much talk about standards in recent times. The chances of that being meaningful let alone workable seem limited what with everything getting an _aaS label now conflated into 'cloud-anything.' That may change in 2010.

Behind the scenes I've been thinking a lot about the problems associated with _aaS and cloud from the business buyers' perspective. Taking off the protective rose colored spectacles that many of us wear when thinking about technology plus spending time getting kicked about on web APIs and talking with those in the field who have a modicum of tech understanding provided one of those ah-ha moments.

What's the point of every vendor talking about this stuff if: 1. buyers are confused and 2. there is an ongoing a failure to address issues around what to many is the inconvenience of handling security in a credible manner?

It was on the back of these pointers that I started a conversation between the UK's ICAEW (ICAEW is the UK equivalent of AICPA) and three SaaS/cloud trade groups that have sprung up in Europe over the last year. The idea was to get some sort of discussion going between both buy and sell side that would lead to the development of business led standards that would have meaning for both sides of the SaaS economy.

I'm in the fortunate position of knowing all the players, one of whom is our own Phil Wainewright acting for EuroCloud in the UK. Another is David Terrar, an Irregular and acting chair of Intellect SaaS group. Yet another is Dave Turner, who is both deputy chair of the BASDA Cloud-SIG and head of marketing for Financialforce.com's immediate parent CODA, part of the Agresso group. Richard Anning, who heads the IT Faculty of ICAEW is well known and respected in the European software industry as a decent and honest person, well capable of driving initiatives forward.

My thinking, as outlined on my personal weblog:

...this achieves several important objectives:

  1. Clarity for buyers and sellers about issues that are currently causing endless and at times futile debates
  2. An opportunity for ICAEW to act as honest broker between buyers and sellers, demonstrating leadership for both members (who may have concerns) and more broadly as a body that has the public interest in mind.
  3. A requirement that all trade groups act in concert to help develop business led standards that elevate discussions around technology to a level where business decision makers can readily understand what’s going on and relate it to their business needs and concerns.

As I also caveat:

I cannot predict what success, if any, the group will have. And it is early days. As we all know, in love affairs, the early days are those when we don’t necessarily focus as well as we should.

But conclude with...

Whatever tech people might think about this – and those of us who’ve been around this particular block know the past failures on many similar topics – I believe that the approach, which is absolutely business focused, represents a sea change in the way responsible vendors are thinking.

Those who might naysay should think for one moment: this is the first time anything of this kind has been attempted. It is also the first time I’ve ever seen three trade groups unequivocally support the ideas I laid out with no hesitation. That is rare but absolutely in keeping with the high speed world of SaaS/cloud. Each of the players should be given full credit for reaching this important milestone.

During the initial discussions in which I was directly involved, Richard Anning raised the question of international considerations. It is an important topic. SaaS/cloud has the potential to span the globe. At the SME level, vendors like Freshbooks have already shown they can easily create an international presence when they have a credible and desirable service. Salesforce.com requires no introduction yet again, they've straddled the globe with little difficulty. If international players can be usefully brought into such initiatives then so much the better.

However, there are EU/UK specific issues that need addressing in areas like data protection and privacy that have to be managed at the local level but which have broader impact. The European debates around these topics are very different in flavor to those we see in the US. On the ground, business people are genuinely concerned about the detail and while they may not fully understand the technical implications, they do know when they have potential legal and compliance problems.

Having worked on both sides of 'The Pond' I see the potential for conflict and tensions around these topics. What I hope is that by demonstrating a willingness to collaborate on a business led agenda, this new initiative will provide useful instruction to anyone thinking about how these problems can be overcome.

I make no secret of the fact that I am 100% in favor of this move and no, I don't take credit for the steps that have been taken so far. I may have expressed the need and been in a position to articulate it but it required the actors in this play to step up.

It is the right thing, at the right time for everyone. If successful, it will be an industry first of a kind that has been along time in coming. In my view, if the freshness of spirit and innovation that SaaS/cloud has fostered is to truly mean anything transformational, then these types of initiative have to succeed.

Disclosure: FinancialForce.com and Wordframe are sponsors on my personal weblog. I have a contractual relationship with ICAEW regarding that organization's community program. I have no direct role in this initiative, though I expect to be apprised of progress and proffer buy side input as required.

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