Thursday, February 07, 2008

The importance of operations to online services customers

I hadn't caught up on Gabriel Morgan's blog in a while, so I'm a week or so late in seeing his interesting post on the importance of operations features in a SaaS product offering. Gabriel works at Microsoft on the team that is looking at the Software plus Services offerings introduced by Ray Ozzie a few months ago. According to Gabriel, being a software product company, Microsoft has occasionally been slow to learn a key lesson in the online services game:

In the traditional packaged software business, product features define what a product is but Customer 2.0 expects to have direct access to operational features within the Service Offering itself.

Take for example Microsoft Word. Product Features such as Import/Export, Mail Merge, Rich Editing, HTML support, Charts and Graphs and Templates are the types of features that Customer 1.0 values most in a product. SaaS Products are much different because Customer 2.0 demands it. Not only must a product include traditional product features, it must also include operational features such as Configure Service, Manage Service SLA, Manage Add-On Features, Monitor Service Usage Statistics, Self-Service Incident Resolution as well. In traditional packaged software products, these features were either supported manually, didn't exist or were change requests to a supporting IT department.

In other words "Service Offering = (Product Features) + (Operational Features)".

Wow. What a simple way to state something I've been concerned about for some time now: as you move your enterprise into the cloud, will your service providers (be it SaaS, HaaS, PaaS or others) provide you with the tools and data you need to successfully operate your business? How will you be able to interact with both the service provider's software and personel to make sure those operations run a) according to your wishes, and b) with no negative impact on your business?

Gabriel goes on:
Guess who builds and supports these Operational Features? Your friendly neighborhood IT department in conjunction with the Operations and Service Offering product group. This raises the quality bar for your traditional IT shop.
Heck, yeah. And guess what? Should a business do something crazy--oh, say, select SaaS products from more than one vendor to integrate into their varied business processes--they will need not only to build solid operational ties with each vendor, but integrate those operational features across vendors. Think about that.

How best to do that? You shouldn't be surprised when I tell you that a key element of the solution is SLAuto under the control of the business. Managing SaaS systems to business-defined service levels will be a critical role of IT in the cloud-scape of tomorrow.

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