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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

SaaS Silos Create New IT Management Challenges

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Listen to my conversation with Scott Bils, founder and chief marketing officer of Conformity, a newly launched company that helps enterprises control and manage SaaS and cloud applications.

In this podcast, discover the management challenges organizations are facing as they increase the number of SaaS applications they take on, and learn why SaaS and cloud require a new approach to identity and systems management.

Listen to or download the 8:00 minute podcast below:

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PW: Scott, your company's mission is to help enterprises manage all the various software-as-a-service applications they're signed up for. Well, the market over the past few years has moved on, if this really is a problem on that scale already, that enterprises have got multiple applications. Is that what you're seeing in the market?

SB: Yeah, it basically depends on what segment of the market you're really talking about when you're talking about enterprises. It's clearly not a homogenous market and different segments exist. Basically what we're focused on, and our customers come from today, is the midmarket or mid-size enterprise segment — so organizations that have about 500 to 2,500 employees. And what we're finding is that these are the organizations that are furthest along the adoption curve in terms of SaaS and cloud technologies.

They may have started with deploying SaaS for CRM three or four years ago, got comfortable with the model, and have deployed it across various functional areas and departments; but are now finding that they have multiple applications in their environment, and are having fundamental management challenges — particularly in the areas of users and access management, knowing what employees have access to what applications and data, and being able to track utilization against that from a compliance and a cost management perspective.

So Scott, the pain points really are just keeping track of who's using what, is it?

Yeah, I think the pain points we're seeing fall into a couple of broad areas. One is around access management and the related compliance and policy management issues. There's also services management issues, for example, around SLA monitoring and tracking, and then data integration as well. What we're focused on from a Conformity perspective is access management. So having this fundamental visibility and capability to understand what employees in your organization have access and permissions to what applications and data, and be able to track actual utilization of the applications as well — so you can ensure compliance, effectively manage roles and also manage operational costs as well.

And isn't that covered, though, by the applications themselves? I mean, you have to sign up and get allocated a subscription, don't you, to become a user of an application?

Yeah, and I think the fundamental challenge is that each of these applications, from a management perspective, basically lives and exists as a separate silo. And all of these applications have been optimized or tuned for a different problem set. Saleforce is tuned for CRM, NetSuite for ERP, SuccessFactors for HR and performance management. And they each have different views of what a user is and what their associated roles and permissions could be in the application. And what we're finding the core challenge to be is, to be able to manage across these different applications — to provide IT in the enterprise a way to centrally view and control user access, right across these different applications, which is a view that they don't fundamentally have today.

The other challenge that they're faced with is being able to extend their existing on-premise directory services and ID management tools to these cloud applications, and that's another area that we're helping with our solution here at Conformity.

Yes, actually, this is an area — the whole spectrum of delivering a service, and measuring usage, monitoring performance, reporting on service levels — these are areas that I think the vendors probably are not doing enough at the moment to do instrumentation and provide data to their customers about. And I can see that probably opens up a gap for a company to do the sort of thing that you're offering.

Yeah, I know, absolutely. And I think the long-term answer is that certainly the SaaS vendors themselves are going to have to provide better visibility and access to management data. The vendors we're working with, we find a broad range of maturity in terms of the APIs they provide. There's certainly some vendors that provide very sophisticated web services APIs, that provide good visibility into a lot of this data around users and performance. But there are others that provide absolutely none. So there's an industry challenge here, where certainly the vendors themselves need to improve access.

But even if they do provide access, it's likely going to be at different levels, utilizing different types of data — and organizations and enterprises, we believe, are still going to want to have an aggregated, normalized view of these metrics across their different SaaS services. And that's the role Conformity will play in that future vision. So I think the answer to your question is, certainly the SaaS vendors need to improve access, but even if they do, there's still going to be the need for third-party services to help aggregate and normalize that data.

Do you think as the awareness grows and people develop best practice there will be standards that start to emerge? And ultimately, I would've thought that this is a role that is going to just get absorbed into the more mainstream systems management products.

Yeah, so two quick thoughts on that. I think standards may evolve, and will likely evolve, longer term around this problem set. It's not clear that the current standards out there are going to be the answer, so clearly SAML, SPML, WS-Federation, OpenIP are some of the standards and approaches in play around this cloud access management problem set. Our philosophy on standards is that a successful standard typically emerges after a common business or technology approach to a problem has been identified, and we're just not there yet. So you see adoption of standards out there today being fairly mixed, which is an indicator to us that this is a set of business problems that really has not been solved.

Now in terms of whether or not it's going to be absorbed longer term, we think that — in platforms or existing systems management tools — our fundamental belief is that the cloud presents a fundamentally different set of challenges, versus on-prem, around management of users and services — and that it requires a fundamental rethink of systems management and identity management, in terms of how you integrate, how do you normalize, how do you manage these different applications. So we don't see these systems management identity management tools that exist on-premise today subsuming this with existing technology and architecture.

We think that a new approach is going to be required. And our goal at Conformity here is not necessarily to replace on-prem systems management, identity management tools, but to extend that to the cloud. So we're reinterpreting and rethinking systems and identity management for the cloud and then tying back to these existing services, which enables IT to leverage their existing investments while still being able to extend their policies and controls to the cloud. So we think that the policies and controls and approaches need to get extended, but the way in which that gets done in the future is going to be different.

1 Comment

Great interview. This is an excellent example of the new types of business opportunities that arise for savvy services firms or channel players as SaaS becomes more widely adopted in the enterprise. Adding to this is the challenge of multiple purchase/buying decision points, if each SaaS application is acquired by different business units or workgroups in the company.


Joanna Lees-Castro
"Providing marketing, sales and business planning guidance for software and services vendors"

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

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