A la carte services are ushering in a new era in computing.
You can tell a lot about someone by the magazines they read. If someone reads Sports Illustrated, Sporting News and Baseball Digest, you know that reader is a sports aficionado with an interest in baseball.
Likewise, in the technology industry you used to be able to identify a technologist by his product selections. For the Microsoft fan it was Windows everywhere. The Larry Ellison fan would be betting that Oracle software could run his entire company, from database through applications. The rebel would be betting he could run the entire company on open-source software. Now, the technology service you select will tell as much about you and your companys technology future as the products being dropped off at your loading dock.
If youve decided to sign up your sales force with Salesforce.com or turn over your financials to NetSuite, you are subscribing not only to a service but also to a new style of computing technology.
If youve decided to have IBM host your Lotus Notes network or have Critical Path host your e-mail system, youre expecting the deal will bring you some relief from e-mail madness.
If youve decided to have your operating system and applications hosted by Rackspace, youve subscribed to a hardware hosting model that promises you the flexibility and customization of supporting your own applications without the hassle of keeping the boxes running.
Making the right technology service selections will be the new hallmark of the successful technology executive. This is a major shift. If the previous computing era was the big-bet, big-win (or -loss) era, the current one unfolding provides the ability to make a la carte selections in trial-size chunks. But the difficulty in running many smaller projects in trial sizes is the difficulty of picking winners and scaling a small experiment to a corporatewide bet.
"It really is a new paradigm," Ernie Megazzini, senior vice president of enterprise information services at SunTrust Banks, said at a recent Salesforce. com event in New York.
Megazzini has seen lots of paradigms come and go, but in this case he was talking about making a CRM selection for 2,000 users at Atlanta-based SunTrust. It was the ability to integrate Salesforce.coms CRM subscription service with the banks legacy client relationship system that helped persuade him to take the project from pilot test to full implementation.
As the decision process moves to the service level, it also means that the older corporate issues of making bets based on operating systems become less relevant while the issue of being able to tie together processes becomes more important. This is a trend important not only for the customers, but for the vendors and system integrators as well.
I doubt that customers considering NetSuite or Salesforce.com are very concerned about which operating system underlies those services. Much more important are the interfaces NetSuite or Salesforce.com offer to existing applications and the interest they generate from system builders willing to build new services on top of those platforms.
"Its really not about choosing a [Microsoft] .Net platform or a J2EE platform; it is really about building composite applications on top of Web services," said Eric Hoffert, CEO of ShareMethods, in South Orange, N.J. Hoffert, one of the early developers of QuickTime, has turned his attention to building those composite applications. One of the companys first services is a marketing application that works in concert with Salesforce.com. The concept makes sense. A marketing application that sits apart from a CRM application offers little use, but building a bridge between the two used to involve lots of time, money and false starts. Better to buy and try the service.
Think of the new era as a time when the tech exec can choose from a range of restaurants rather than trying to cook every meal himself. He will be able to spend his time picking the right restaurants rather than shopping for pots and pans.
Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at email@example.com.
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