Vendor Perception of the SaaS Platform Landscape
We’ve written quite a bit here about Salesforce’s Apex… and, admittedly, we’ve taken a somewhat critical stance on it. Questions of identity crisis and ambiguity have boiled down to “Is it a SaaS platform, or a CRM platform? Is there a difference, and does it really matter what they call it as long as it is what I need?” Frankly, I don’t think Salesforce has done a clear enough job defining what it is, and what it isn’t. If I simply relied on their homepage description of Apex: “A ground-breaking platform for customizing and integrating CRM, as well as developing and deploying brand-new applications, ” I might chalk this up to semantics – but understanding how the Apex technology stack works, one gets a better understanding of how closely tied it is to the Salesforce.com application codebase. This satisfies part one of their description – but the growth of Apex as a SaaS platform vs. CRM platform will rely heavily on how far it can deviate from the Salesforce.com application. This, of course, remains to be seen.
As SaaSBlogs and pretty much the rest of the SaaS blogging community (SaaSWeek, Phil Wainewright, Jeff Kaplan, among many others) took note of last week, Opsource announced the Optimal OnDemand 2.0 SaaS Platform. Opsource really caught our attention with this one because of the way Optimal OnDemand 2.0 seems to quell some of our contentions with Salesforce’s Apex platform concept and other ‘niche’ platform concepts to date. Opsource’s core competencies have been in the hosting infrastructure and provisioning realm, but with OOD2.0 they are introducing value adds further up the stack that fulfill SaaS hosting requirements (read: vendor pain points). It’s a tremendous boon to the notion that to build robust SaaS applications, vendors will rely on platforms that provide general purpose technological and business value rather than platforms with a bent towards a particular vertical market or spawned from an application codebase.
The introduction of OOD2.0 is big not only because of its impact, or dent, in relative size to the landscape of SaaS platform offerings, but because of how much it contributes to the growth of the landscape in terms of overall value. Given that the landscape is, at least for now, shaped by a veritable combination of niche platforms and newer large scope general purpose platforms such as Opsource’s OOD2.0 and Apprenda’s platform offering - which type of platform has more perceived value to the ISV? For instance, if I aim to build a project management application, should I utilize a proprietary hosting platform that offers a toolset strategically designed for project management applications (perhaps even built from one) but is limiting in terms of scope? Or do I want to host my application on a general purpose platform that provides multiple tenets of SaaS as a base but does not intend to provide toolsets for strategy-related aspects of the application?
A better question at this stage is whether not this type of question is perceived as one of semantics or of real technical merit. If you’re currently building a SaaS application, or simply doing research for a future project, I’m interested in learning where your search has taken you across the unfolding landscape, and where you’ve seen the most value in terms of SaaS platform offerings.