Monday, 9 July 2007

I just read an article by Jeff Kaplan of Think Strategies called "SAAS Fault Lines". I think Jeff raises an issue that will resonate with all software product vendors - not just SaaS vendors. In all of the companies that I have worked for there is a tension between strategic product focus and customer-specific features. Whether hosted or not, software vendors constantly walk a product management tightrope between good, strategic, architecturally pure development; and tactical work with a high maintenance overhead which keeps the lights on.

I dont think we can set down hard and fast rules for SaaS vendors - each case will have to be taken on it's merit and there will be times when customisation will be preferred and where it will make good business sense.

I think the technical challenge for SaaS vendors is to build a multi-tenanted service platform where customisation/extension is a managed activity rather than an ad-hoc one. Many SaaS vendors already offer per-customer schemas and extension points as part of their service.

The key questions for me are:

  • Where one draws the line on customisation

  • Each customisation/extension should be considered using simple product management criteria like - will it cost more to develop/maintain that it will accrue? is there a possibility that the extension could be reused for other customers? etc.

  • WHO owns and supports the extension.

  • ...or to be more precise - who pays?

  • Which technologies can assist SaaS vendors to be as agile and flexible as possible (without making them snap!)

  • My shortlist would include SOA, Spring and OSGI.

    The capability to be flexible and extensible will be key differentiators for SaaS vendors going forward.