Hosted applications, including Salesforce.com, make sense if they get enough customers to buy in. The ability to "socialize" -- or spread out the costs of a top notch data center including security, availability and scalability among a large group -- makes business sense. But now I'm wondering if it would be a better idea to aggregate these hosted services so that enterprises could consolidate access to the growing variety of hosted apps and services.
I started thinking about this after attending a Dreamforce session on integrating Google Adwords with Salesforce.com to process leads. Salesforce.com users can get a lot of specific information about leads that come from Google Adwords. Leads that come from Yahoo or Ask are logged as coming from those search engines and also what words resulted in the search, but that's about it. In other words, it makes a difference which hosted services you use if you want to use them together.
Is there a role for a hosted service aggregator or a channel service integrator? Or will we see new "stacks" of hosted services that take an all-or-nothing approach, such as a Google/Salesforce/Postini stack or the Yahoo/NetSuite/Proofpoint stack? Is it possible that a hosted service aggregator could work some magic so that an enterprise CIO could choose different combinations of hosted services that would appear to work seamlessly and effectively with all the integration work out of sight?
Here's what I think an effective hosted service aggregator would have to supply for this equation to make sense: First of all, provide choices. Let IT managers choose which search engines, CRM (customer relationship management), office productivity suites and messaging services provide them the best price/performance deal.
Second, unify access and security. Enterprise single sign on, user provisioning and audit functions must be combined out of the box (so to speak) for a hosted service aggregator to make any sense.
Third, service level agreements must specify a level of performance that is equal to, or perhaps just slightly lower than, the enterprise currently receives from internal services.
Now, I can already hear the squawking from CIOs, so I want you to answer a simple question before you stop reading. If your internally supported e-mail/CRM/backup application stops working today, can you sue your IT department? For most, I'm assuming that the answer is "no."
The most you can do is fire them. And if you do that, your e-mail/CRM/backup still won't be working. A hosted service aggregator could be held contractually accountable for uptime and performance. Good aggregators would have the top notch staff on hand needed to make availability a reality and the development staff needed to make the mashups between hosted services work.
Before all the IT managers who might still be reading begin to grind their teeth, it seems clear that hosted applications require almost as much care and feeding as those that run inside the organization.
There is still a need for developers and analysts to massage the hosted applications into the dizzyingly unique confections that CEO's crave to make their business work. After attending a Dreamforce session entitled "On-Demand Development Lifecycle and Tools," it was clear that gearheads are needed in the hosted app world. And the hosted app world still needs security folks to make sure that the endpoints from which the hosted apps are accessed are free of bugs. And there is still a place for network engineers because, quite frankly, the network is even more important to hosted apps.