The explosion of SaaS is a good thing.  Three years ago I wrote a paper on the shift from systems to service about how businesses need to start thinking in terms of business services to enable this shift.  In that paper I talked about how taking a business service approach helped you understand what should be moved to the cloud.  So lets be clear, I think SaaS is a good thing and it really helps companies in getting value out of IT.

However one of the things I really should have mentioned in big capital letters at the start of the paper is

Good IT and business practices are needed in SaaS and the cloud even more than in the enterprise

Working with folks like Informatica and their Informatica Cloud view is great because they get it, not just the provision of cloud versions, which everyone does, but the idea that actually if you do SaaS its the enterprise to SaaS integration that is the biggest part of the challenge.

The big challenge here is how do you create a unified view? Traditional old-school MDM ‘hub’ approaches clearly aren’t going to work (try telling SFDC that they can’t store customer information locally) so you need to take a Federated approach to Business Information and use MDM technologies to provide the keys.  The critical piece though is that with SaaS solutions you need to have already sorted out the key MDM questions

  • How do you identify your customers/products/etc?
  • What are your match thresholds?
  • Who cleans up potential matches?
  • What information needs to be kept in sync between systems

And of course several others, but the point here is that these are business questions on how you define your information.  The next stage is of course to work out how technology will enable these policies where ever the information is modified, this is the role of MDM servers,  SaaS CRM or HR solutions aren’t set up to do this sort of enterprise information integration.

SaaS solutions are great ERP replacements in lots of scenarios but that doesn’t mean that the lessons we learnt on how to make ERPs function within a broader information and systems landscape have ceased to become true simply because they’ve moved outside the firewalls.

If you really want SaaS to be successful then you should be first taking control of the information you have and ensuring that any SaaS solution is part of an integrated information estate which can provide the business with the full view rather than replacing a current internal challenge with a significantly larger external one.

MDM is a pre-requisite for successful SaaS.