SaaS: More Fundamental Change Than We Realized?

[More in a series of posts inspired by the "PM in an on-demand world" research that I've been doing. Here's the link to yesterday's thought du jour.]

During the research interviews about PM and SaaS, I was struck by how philosophical the conversations got. To the interviewees, SaaS was not merely a delivery vehicle, but a fundamental decision about their business. Bringing technology producers and consumers closer together forced many vendors to admit that they had a vague, incomplete idea of who adopts their products and services, why they do it, and how they do it. The subscription model led to many hard questions about how the company makes money. Marketers had to deal with a significantly modified value proposition, while simultaneously knocking down some new potential objections (most notably, security). 

But those are just the most obvious consequences. The deeper we got into the research, the more I felt that we were talking about other ripple effects of SaaS, PaaS, and the other aaSes. At least a couple of Big Industry Trends – the kind that Very Serious People spend a great deal of time talking about – owe a great deal to SaaS. Without the success of SaaS, many organizations would not have been as open to embracing other changes. I'll mention just two of them, Agile and social media, among several that we'll discuss in the final report.

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The Best Feature May Be The One You Don't Build

A lot of my recent research – about SaaS/PaaS, Agile tools, requirements tools, and innovating with your channel – share a common conclusion: successful technology vendors see integration as more than just a necessary evil. Here's why.

Business problems drive technology adoption 
You can see this principle in action in the requirements tools market, which in the last decade has grown larger and more complex. Teams use these tools to address more than one type of requirements-related challenge, so it's easy to see why the tools themselves are now as diverse as as Micro Focus (née Borland) Calibre, Atlassian JIRA, Ravenflow RAVEN, and VersionOne's Ideas Management module. If your problem is, "People don't like using our product," you might look at a visualization tool like iRise to shorten the feedback loop, leading to better design decisions. If, instead, your problem is, "We don't have a good business justification for what we build," you might look at IBM Rational DOORS to evaluate the pros and cons of alternative scenarios for what goes into the next release.

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