Do you need a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) alternatives plan?

Evernote has recently changed its service plan making it less attractive (in my opinion) to people like myself. I can’t do anything about that change other than look for an alternative, but switching isn’t going to be straightforward.

I have a lot of photographs stored in the Flickr service currently owned by Yahoo and soon to be owned by Verizon. I’m a bit concerned that Flickr may not be around for too much longer.

I’ve worked on a few projects where I’ve stored my data in OneDrive because the storage was free. Along the way my free OneDrive quota increased and so did my usage. Then Microsoft changed the service plan, which significantly decreased my free quota, and asked me to pay for the additional usage. They’ve offered me Office 365 Personal for free, for 12 months, but after that I would have to pay.

Our natural tendency is to treat the services that we use as if they are going to be around forever and as if they will continue to provide the capabilities we value during that time. As the examples above show, we need to be cautious about these expectations.

Thankfully, in most situations, there are alternatives available, but shifting to an alternative isn’t always straightforward. Each time we use a service we invest in the capabilities of that service. Beyond just the basics, not all of those capabilities are going to be available in the alternative. Take Flickr as an example; there are many alternative photo-sharing applications, but I can’t transfer all of the social interactions from Flickr to an alternative. OneNote is arguably a good alternative to Evernote — but it’s not Evernote.

All of my illustrations, so far, have been focused on personal technology usage, but what’s true for me as an individual is also true for enterprises.

I don’t imagine it’s could happen anytime soon, but what would happen if Salesforce had a crisis? What would happen if Microsoft decided to close Office 365 or Amazon ran into a set of problems that meant people lost confidence in AWS? How many businesses would be significantly impacted?

I’m not predicting any of those things; they are all highly unlikely. But it was also unlikely that Blackberry would be replaced as the enterprise mobile-messaging provider of choice just a few years ago. Sometimes it’s appropriate to plan for the unlikely.

Once upon a time, people had applications on servers in their data center. If there was a problem with a vendor of technology, there was normally no need to move quickly because you could carry on running things as they were; you had time to seek out an alternative and migrate to it. Having been involved in a number of application rationalization projects I can tell you that there are large organizations out there still running applications where the vendor hasn’t existed for decades. In the cloud and in particular for Software as a Service (SaaS) capabilities, you don’t have that option or, at least, not in the same way, so it’s appropriate to plan.

I’m not suggesting that you invest in parallel SaaS capabilities or anything as bold as that. My proposal is that you actively assess the risks, understand the impact and define an alternative, knowing the implications of moving to that alternative.

  • Assess the risk: How likely is it that a SaaS capability is going to have a problem? Microsoft is a $400B company that sells Office 365 to businesses around the world; it’s future depends on it. I’d say that’s low risk for now. Evernote has 150M users. It’s privately owned, which means it’s not as easy to understand its financial position. Perhaps I’d call it a medium risk?
  • Understand the impact: How “business critical” is the SaaS capability? What parts of the business would stop working if it became a problem? If Salesforce is now managing your sales and order process end-to-end, the impact would be huge.
  • Define an alternative: In most instances an alternative exists. Google provides a capable alternative to Microsoft’s Office 365. Oracle would love for you to use one of its alternatives to Salesforce. Having chosen a SaaS capability, it’s easy to spend all of our time trying to exploit what we have purchased, but keeping a broad view of other services will allow you to better understand the risks in your current provision and also whether your current provision is keeping pace with the market.
  • Know the implications of moving: Before choosing a SaaS capability you need to understand whether you can get your data out of it in a way that allows you to do something with it. Migrating between services is easier for some than others and it depends on a number of different characteristics: end user impact, volume of data, level of customization, integrations with the service, toolset availability, expertise availability, etc.

Application migration is rarely easy, and SaaS migration doesn’t completely remove those issues but having a plan will allow you to move forward confidently should the need arise.


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Graham ChastneyGraham Chastney is a Technologist in CSC’s Global Infrastructure Services. He has worked in the arena of workplace technology for over 25 years, starting as a sysprog supporting IBM DISOSS and DEC All-in-1. Latterly Graham has been working with CSC’s customers to help them understand how they exploit the changing world of workplace technology. Graham lives with his family in the United Kingdom.

Twitter: @grahamchastney

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