Whats needed, according to industry analysts, are improved development environments that enable companies to more seamlessly give users offline access to diverse data sources from on-demand and legacy data systems through the latest communication technologies, such as smart phones.
While established SAAS (software as a service) vendors like Salesforce.com, NetSuite and RightNow Technologies have had offline capabilities for a number of years—Salesforce.com introduced its Offline Edition in 2003—experts agree that theres more work to be done.
For those SAAS applications that do provide offline access to data, the next frontier is to provide access to data that resides in both on-demand and on-premises applications to fit a specific business process, according to Jeffrey Kaplan, an analyst with Thinkstrategies.
"All major as well as emerging SAAS vendors are trying to build a level of functionality into their multitenant environments in such a way that they can anticipate a variety of scenarios—what kinds of legacy apps, offline environments users might need—and how to properly regulate that so that when they are connected it properly integrates in an automated fashion and mitigates any customer involvement," Kaplan said.
"Its certainly a work in progress. My sense is [SAAS vendors] are making aggressive efforts to satisfy this need," he said.
Whats needed, according to industry analysts, are improved development environments that enable companies to create a more seamless offline capability with access to more information in more ways, as well as the ability to access information offline that spans across on-demand and legacy systems.
"Offline clients are usually very limited. Within Salesforce only a subset of information [is available] and just as an XML data transfer, so its not a true baked offline client," said Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone. "When youre thinking about the availability of information you want it any time, anywhere. Some Web-based applications dont provide that."
While on-demand vendors may well take the lead in creating better integration for offline data access—Salesforce.com users want to be able to access legacy data for CRM (customer relationship management) from their Salesforce environments, for example—outside forces will work to beef up offline capabilities as well, analysts said.
Yankees Kingstone pointed to tools being developed by Adobe that will allow a more interactive GUI. "Eventually some of that will be able to go offline," she said.
The result of these developments will be more mature development tools that vendors can integrate with their products, analysts said. Google Gears is a good example, though its unclear at this point whether on-demand vendors will incorporate the technology into their own development environments, or exactly what that will enable.
Given recent rumors that Salesforce.com will strike up a partnership to utilize Googles SAAS productivity tools—an announcement that some expect to come as early as the week of June 4—a pairing of Google Gears and Salesforce CRM applications seems likely.
Adam Gross, director of product marketing for Salesforce.com, based in San Francisco, was noncommittal in an e-mailed statement. "Salesforce.com [has] made offline technologies available to our customers since 2003," Gross said. "[We] think Gears and other new browser technologies will be able to further enhance that capability."
RightNow Technologies and NetSuite executives were not available at press time.