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Cloud Talk

Andre Yee

What the New SaaS Looks Like

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Beginning the year with top 10 (or 12) predictions is so... well, predictable. Not to mention, perhaps a little pretentious. So let's dispense with that charade and talk about what a new, emerging class of SaaS/cloud applications will look like.

Here's the landscape - most established cloud applications today were designed and built more than a decade ago. Think: 1st generation SaaS apps. Over the better part of past decade, the emphasis was mainstream market adoption with pioneer Salesforce.com leading the charge. That movie is over - mission accomplished. There are precious few companies that haven't bought into cloud computing, especially cloud applications in some fashion.

Driven by mainstream market adoption and the emergence of the social web, we're on the brink of a new generation of SaaS applications that look different from their forerunners. In fact, existing SaaS vendors need to reinvent themselves in this new form or find themselves extinct over the next decade. What does the next generation SaaS look like? Here are a few ideas -

(bear in mind, in looking forward, I've deliberately left out attributes that are table-stakes for any system today - web scale, high availability, etc...)

Social Enabled

SaaS applications today need to be social-enabled. This means incorporating or integrating social networking as part of the application fabric. When I say social enabled, I'm looking at two primary distinctives - 1) facilitating user created content and 2) amplifying relationships between constituents (eg. users, customers, partners). App developers will either "get it" or fall behind.

HTML5 Web Client

As designed, most first generation SaaS applications tended to have static web interfaces that led to very truncated and limited user experiences. Yes, the broad use of AJAX in the past 5-7 years has helped change this but there's no reason that today's cloud applications can't do much better. In a sense, apps today need to deliver richer experience, more akin to what desktop applications can do from a user interaction perspective. Users are demanding a Rich Internet Application (RIA) experience from applications but delivered in a standard browser. This spells the use of HTML5 frameworks that can deliver rich and robust capability - interactive user experience, auto-save powered by local side storage, etc... Big players like Google, Microsoft and Salesforce.com have bet big on HTML5 for this very reason.

Big Data

If you haven't noticed data growth is exploding. You're seeing the "big data" effect all over - in B2B as well as B2C, in numerous vertical segments of the market like healthcare, retail, finance and even government. This is also in no small part driven by search and social networking. The collection, management and analysis of these big data sets pose both a big technical challenge and a huge opportunity for companies that can crack the code. SaaS companies have the burden of collecting massive amounts of data across entire customer base and the opportunity of leveraging this data for trend analysis and benchmarking. I suspect this is going to be standard fare for SaaS. Old relational data models may have to give way to new data capture and storage mechanisms. New methods of analysis may emerge. But make no mistake about it - big data is rapidly becoming a core competency for next-gen SaaS.

Apps as in "There's an App for That"

"There's an app for that" was the refrain for 2011. The growth of tablets in 2011 have only accelerated the demand for apps ... and more apps. In fact, the growth of tablets are outstripping the growth of lower priced e-readers. That's because people want to do more than just consume content, they want applications. The net effect for SaaS developers is this - make room for apps in your roadmap. While I wouldnt agree with Forrester's George Colony about the imminent death of the web, the fact is that the web isn't the only way to access cloud content and functionality anymore. Arguably, for some, apps running on mobile and tablet devices are a more effective way of doing so.

New generation cloud applications - socially enabled, easily handling big data and equally accessible through a rich web interface as well as apps on tablets. That's something to look forward to in 2012.

Andre Yee blogs about cloud computing, SaaS, Web 2.0 and other emerging technologies that matter to businesses.

Andre Yee

Andre Yee is an entrepreneur and technologist with nearly 20 years of experience in the business of technology.

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