Aggregation, integration, mashup platforms and ecosystems are going to be hot topics in software-as-a-service circles next year, according to a group of vendor CEOs who sat on a panel at the SIIA's OnDemand Summit in San Jose earlier this month. I was intrigued to hear how much unanimity there was in their responses when asked to predict the most notable trends looking just six months out. They are obviously all thinking about how to link up their offerings with other vendors', and what the risks and opportunities might be for them.
One of the less obvious risks that surfaced is an interesting one. There's clearly a shared belief that integration will happen through some kind of hub — though no clear view as to whether that hub will be a platform, a marketplace or a customer-facing aggregator. The inherent risk here that vendors have to be wary of is the potential to become dependent on — and perhaps at the mercy of — an intermediary who takes control of the customer relationship. Several vendors were evidently alive to the flipside opportunity this represents of themselves becoming the hub that others depend on.
This presumably was what was on the mind of Mike Gregoire (pictured), CEO of talent management provider Taleo, when he spoke of an opportunity for SaaS vendors to become the consolidator of non-ERP applications in an enterprise. Taleo is typical of a new class of vendors who are picking off applications outside of the core ERP suite in areas such as human capital management, spend management and the full gamut of collaboration activities. Now there are signs of consolidation across several of these sectors so that customers can cover a range of application needs without having to acquire an unmanageable roster of piecemeal solutions.
Gregoire also mentioned that the advent of mashup capabilities created an opportunity to help mid-market customers integrate applications in real-time on the Web.
Other panelists talked about the growth of a marketplace for on-demand applications and services. Former Commerce One CEO Mark Hoffman, who now leads on-demand desktop management specialist Everdream, agreed that tying on-demand applications together would be the new trend ahead. He cited his company's participation in Salesforce.com's AppExchange marketplace as a case in point: "We're just at the early stages of the true web services marketplace."
The mechanics of how exactly these marketplaces will operate was the concern cited by Treb Ryan, CEO of OpSource, which specializes in providing hosting and service delivery management infrastructure for SaaS vendors. This not only requires the ability to connect up applications but also a method for settling out payments so that participants get paid appropriately.
WebEx CEO Subrah Iyar cited "SaaS platforms" as the big trend, no doubt influenced by WebEx's planned introduction of its own Connect platform. It was important, he added, to think of these not just as technology stacks but as business platforms.
Fifth panelist John Dillon, CEO of Navis, the only vendor on the panel to offer on-premise as well as SaaS versions of its supply chain offerings, bucked the consensus by holding back from a specific prediction: "We're just going to be minding the store focusing relentlessly on the customer experience ... SaaS is just one aspect of the business model." But for SaaS pureplays, tackling the integration issue is a vital component in ensuring a positive customer experience. It's evident from just this small cross-section of opinions that many different models are currently being explored and so the panel was right to say it's going to be a hot issue — and probably the cause of some heated debate over the coming months.