Thursday, March 28, 2013

Does SaaS Save Money?

According to a soon-to-be-published survey by Computer Economics, IT decision-makers appreciate the benefits of SaaS, such as speed, agility, and scalability. But there is one benefit that they do not rate highly. They do not see that SaaS saves money.

Please read to the end of this post to see how I plan to quantify this issue with some hard data.

One Client’s Impression

This finding was reinforced in my mind last week, when I reconnected with a past client of my consulting firm, Strativa. We had helped this high tech manufacturer three years ago with a new CRM system selection, and the company had chosen Now the CIO wanted to pick my brain about options for upgrading other parts of his applications portfolio.

In the course of the conversation, the CIO made an interesting observation. “Frank, we think we made the right choice with Salesforce, and we believe cloud systems are the way to go. But I’ve got to tell you, they aren’t cheap.”

I indicated that I had been thinking about this subject recently and asked him to tell me more. “Well, when you count the per-user fees, plus the platform costs, plus the partner apps that you want to implement, it can add up to a lot of money year after year,” he explained. “And, of course, you still have the up-front implementation consulting fees.”

Changing the Subject

Later in the day, I posted a couple of tweets about this conversation, and the reaction from some of my followers was interesting. “The real benefits of SaaS are in flexibility and agility,” replied one follower. “You shouldn’t be looking at TCO,” replied another.

I'm always amused when analysts and consultants want to tell customers what questions they should be asking or not asking. As if some questions are off limits.

Now, as a proponent of cloud computing, I’ll put myself right up there with the best of them. However, I would like to know: how does the total cost of SaaS compare to on-premises systems? Moreover, if SaaS is more expensive, isn’t that useful information for IT decision makers?  Of course it is. If a customer is going to make a technology decision, the customer should have all the information needed. Certainly, cost is one of the factors he or she should be taking into account.

Four Theories

So, let's consider: why might a customer think that SaaS doesn't save them money? Off the top of my head, there are at least four possibilities.
  • Theory 1: SaaS does save money, but customers don’t realize it. In other words, perhaps customers do not fully appreciate the cost of staffing and supporting on-premises systems, such as the cost of implementing future upgrades. These are costs that are eliminated or greatly reduced with SaaS. But since customers do not fully recognize those costs, they do not count those savings. Or, because of the cost, they might be avoiding upgrades of on-premises systems and not recognizing the price their organization is paying by not staying current.
  • Theory 2: SaaS does save money, but you only realize those savings when you completely eliminate your on-premises systems. If you still have most of your systems on-premises, moving just one of them to the cloud doesn’t eliminate your data center or data center staffing. So, you are not able to realize the cost savings from eliminating the data center. 
  • Theory 3: SaaS does save money, but vendors don’t pass along those savings to customers. In other words, SaaS applications are cheaper to for vendors to develop, deploy, and maintain, but SaaS providers are just matching the prices of on-premises vendors and enjoy extra profits.
  • Theory 4: SaaS is more expensive than on-premises systems, but it’s worth it. Perhaps SaaS does not save money, but the value of SaaS in terms of flexibility, agility, and scalability are so overwhelming that it’s worth it to customers to pay extra.
Now, these four theories are not mutually exclusive. For example, SaaS may save money (Theory 1) and also allow vendors to appropriate some of the cost savings as extra profit (Theory 3). Or, a mix of on-premises and cloud systems do not save money (Theory 2), but its still worth it for customers in terms of agility (Theory 4). Furthermore, the answer may be different for different SaaS applications. For example, perhaps cloud CRM saves money, but cloud ERP doesn't.

More Data Needed

But, the general question is still unanswered. Generally, from the customer’s perspective, does SaaS save money?

To answer this question, Computer Economics has launched another survey. As part of our annual IT spending and staffing survey, we are looking for organizations that have moved most or all of their applications portfolio to the cloud. In other words, we are looking for customers that have no internally supported data center, or at least, a minimal set of on-premises systems. We are asking these customers to take part in our regular annual survey, and we will compare the IT spending ratios of these select customers against our standard industry ratios for IT spending and staffing. We will also interview these customers to learn more about their experience with SaaS and the perceived value as well as challenges.

Through this study, we hope to be able to answer three main questions. First, do companies that have gone largely to cloud computing spend less on IT than those that have not? Second, how does the mix of IT spending differ? Finally, where do customers see the business value of SaaS?

We already have a handful of respondents and the initial data is quite interesting. But we need more. If you are a company that has implemented all or most of your business applications in the cloud, please apply to take our survey. As an incentive, survey participants will receive $2,500 of free research reports.

Apply for the Computer Economics Survey >>

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